Mortonhall parents want time to reflect findings

Dorothy Maitland at last night's meeting. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Dorothy Maitland at last night's meeting. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Emotional parents struggling to come to terms with the findings of the Mortonhall report have insisted they won’t be rushed into deciding their next move.

Dozens of exhausted mums and dads – who had spent the previous 36 hours trying to digest the full horror of the 600-page document – gathered last night for a meeting hosted by Sands Lothians, the charity which, alongside the Evening News, exposed the baby ashes scandal.

Amid a sombre atmosphere, some demanded a fresh push for a public inquiry, while others admitted they feared there were no more answers left to be had.

When the meeting broke up, the consensus was that parents and the charity would take stock and reflect on Dame Elish Angiolini’s shocking report before deciding whether to press for a wider probe.

Dorothy Maitland, operations manager of Sands Lothians, said: “The general feeling is that we are all too tired – there’s not much fight left and I do think the report was very thorough, but we don’t want to appear selfish for those who do want a public inquiry.

“It’s been a worthwhile meeting and certainly for Sands we will be concentrating on the support that needs to be put in place.”

Meanwhile, senior officials responsible for Mortonhall are to be quizzed in public at a special council summit called in the wake of the ashes scandal report.

Councillors have agreed to set up a working group, including parents’ representatives, to draw up an action plan for implementing the recommendations published on Wednesday by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish.

The plan will be presented to a special meeting of the full council on June 26, where families affected by the scandal will be able to tell their stories.

And councillors will question “relevant” officials – expected to include Mark Turley, the council’s director of community services, whose department is in overall charge of the crematorium, as well as Susan Mooney, head of community safety, and Charlie Holt, bereavement services manager.

Dame Elish’s report came almost 18 months after the Evening News first revealed how, for more than 40 years, parents who had lost a baby soon after birth, as well as those who had delivered a stillborn, had been wrongly told there were no ashes. In fact, the remains were collected and buried in unmarked ground.

The council has pledged to act on her recommendations.

Council leader Andrew Burns said: “On behalf of the council, I want to offer profound apologies to parents for the distress and pain caused by the previous practices at Mortonhall. We must act on the recommendations to ensure that the highest possible standards are adhered to at Mortonhall and that nothing like this can happen again.”

The council has not commented on any possible disciplinary action against employees over the scandal. Many of the key figures involved at Mortonhall at the time are no longer with the council.

Council chief executive Sue Bruce, who commissioned the report and will chair the working group to draw up an action plan, said: “The council will co-operate fully with any further inquiries being made by the Crown Office.”

Dame Elish’s report found that ashes of babies cremated in the evening were sometimes left to be mixed in with the first adult cremation in the morning.

She said hundreds of parents whose babies had been cremated at Mortonhall faced a “lifetime of uncertainty” over what happened to their child’s remains.

The Scottish Government has pledged new legislation once Lord Bonomy’s commission on infant cremations reports later this month.

Public health minister Michael Matheson told MSPs a slot had already been identified to allow a new law to be brought swiftly before parliament. He said he understood calls for a public inquiry, but added such a move should wait until after publication of Lord Bonomy’s report.

He said: “We have never ruled out a public inquiry. We have always said we would reflect on that once we have received the reports from Dame Angiolini and Lord Bonomy. That is what we will do.

“We didn’t hesitate last year to launch a robust, independent process to learn lessons and make recommendations for the future, when these issues emerged. We will not hesitate to bring forward the necessary legislation and take the necessary steps once the commission has reported.”

Urging a public inquiry, Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “I think Dame Elish’s report is deeper and more disturbing than any of us could have imagined.”

But Mr Matheson said the Angiolini inquiry had been able to examine the detailed cases of 253 families, which a public inquiry could not do.

Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie paid tribute to the work of Sands Lothians and in particular Ms Maitland for supporting families through an “unbelievably difficult process”.

He said: “The pain of the families is deepened by the shocking findings of this report and the news that in many cases they will never know what happened to their babies’ ashes.”

And he urged the government to consider a “lasting and dignified memorial”.

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone called for the government and local authorities to ensure people working in crematoria had “all the necessary attributes, not solely paper qualifications” to carry out all aspects of their work with the greatest sensitivity Mr Matheson said: “One of the important lessons that needs to be learned is that staff have the right type of empathy and attitude for that particular role.”

Detectives probe allegations of forged parents’ signatures

DETECTIVES have begun an investigation into allegations that parents’ signatures were forged on forms giving permission for the disposal of their babies’ ashes.

The Evening News revealed yesterday that as a result of her inquiry into the Mortonhall scandal, former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini had referred two cases to the police after parents said the signatures on the doc-uments had been faked.

Dame Elish said in her report that in many cases, the section of the form relating to disposal of remains was left blank.

But she went on: “Some parents were shocked to see the instruction ‘disperse’ recorded on a form they have never seen. They are clear that they did not give this instruction.

“In two cases, parents were positive that the forms had been signed in their name, but not by them, and the investigation referred this matter to the police. A third case is also being exam-ined.”

Police looking into alleg-ations of mal-practice at Mort-onhall originally con-cluded in April last year that no criminal activity had taken place at the crematorium.

However, a fresh investigation is now under way following the release of Dame Elish’s report into the baby ashes scandal at the city’s Mortonhall crematorium .

‘ACTION TO STOP REPEAT OF ASHES SCANDAL A PRIORITY’

ALEX Salmond has announced an extra £100,000 to fund counselling for families affected by the tragedy.

The cash will go to two organisations – Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) and SiMBA (Simpson’s Memory Box Appeal) – which the First Minister praised for their “sterling work” with bereaved parents.

Answering a question from Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, Mr Salmond said everyone’s thoughts were with the parents who had suffered not only the loss of a child, but also the extra trauma highlighted in Dame Elish’s report.

He said: “No-one should ever have to experience this pain and we are determined no-one ever will again.”

He pledged the Scottish Government would implement the recommendations in Dame Elish’s report.

And he said proposals, due later this month, from Lord Bonomy’s commission on infant cremation would be taken into legislation “at the earliest possible moment”.

“Action to stop these terrible events happening again in the future is a priority for this parliament,” he said.