Mortonhall baby ashes scandal ‘could happen again’

Mortonhall campaigners Dorothy Maitland and Willie Reid visit the crematorium memorial garden. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Mortonhall campaigners Dorothy Maitland and Willie Reid visit the crematorium memorial garden. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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NEW laws drawn up in the aftermath of the Mortonhall baby ashes controversy must be strengthened to prevent a repeat of the scandal, MSPs have warned.

Greater sensitivity is being called for in dealing with women who have just suffered the loss of a child in pregnancy amid concerns some were asked to make decisions while in “no fit state” and under sedation.

There are several key provisions within the Bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.

Duncan McNeill

Revelations in the Evening News towards the end of 2012 that staff at the Capital crematorium had buried the ashes of babies for decades without informing the parents prompted public anger.

It later emerged this practice had been widespread across Scotland.

SEE ALSO: Mortonhall scandal must never be repeated: Willie Reid

The Scottish Government has now set out proposals to tighten up procedures through the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill.

Holyrood’s health committee has backed the Bill, but warns that changes are needed to avoid future instances where bereaved parents are left in the dark. Committee convenor Duncan McNeill said: “There are several key provisions within the Bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.”

SEE ALSO: Families visit new Mortonhall memorial garden

Key concerns centre on women who have just lost a pregnancy and may be “incapacitated” while making decisions to meet timescales in the new laws.

MSPs want to see greater flexibility in the new regime to deal with this.

One mum who lost her child in 2004 and never recovered the ashes yesterday told MSPs of her experience.

Cheryl Buchanan, from Glasgow, said: “I had been sedated shortly beforehand for a procedure related to the pregnancy.

“At no point were the forms explained to me – up until 2013 I was sure I had never signed any cremation forms so it came as a shock to me to see my signature on them.

“Even if they had been explained to me, I was in no fit state to sign legal documents and was still sedated, so would not have been able to give my informed consent.”

MSPs also warn that the new cremation application form is expected to state that ashes sometimes won’t be recovered from a cremation. The health committee says this is “not in keeping” with maximising the recovery of ashes.

There are also concerns over the definition of “cremation”, because this could also include cremulation – often known as grinding – which may not meet with the approval of faith groups.

Mr McNeill added: “The loss of a baby is one of the most heartbreaking things that can happen to a parent.

“So the poor historic practices at some crematoria that resulted in parents not knowing what happened to their baby’s ashes has had a long-lasting and devastating impact on the parents.”

The Evening News first revealed more than three years ago that babies’ cremated remains had been dumped in a mass unmarked grave at Mortonhall. For 45 years, grieving parents were told by bosses at the council-run crematorium that there would be nothing to scatter.