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Mortonhall Scandal: Charity boss refutes council’s denial that babies’ ashes were swept into bin

Dorothy Maitland says the council's denial was premature

Dorothy Maitland says the council's denial was premature

  • by DAVID McCANN
 

THE charity boss who exposed decades of malpractice at Mortonhall Crematorium is standing by claims that the ashes of cremated babies may have been “swept up and put in the bin”.

Edinburgh City Council today denied Dorothy Maitland’s allegations, but she said this was premature ahead of a major probe to discover the truth behind the scandal.

The operations manager for bereavement charity Sands Lothian said the council should reserve judgement until the findings of the investigation are made public.

She said: “The council don’t know whether this practice took place or not, and neither do we. I don’t think there can be any comments made until the full investigation is done.

“This is what parents have been saying to me. We don’t know this for definite but this is what parents have been thinking. Everyone who we have spoken to has been asking ‘where are the ashes?’. I can’t answer that because I don’t know, no-one does at the moment.”

She added: “I just look forward to the investigation coming to an end. I hope, and have been asssured, that the council will be honest with their findings because every parent deserves honesty about what happened to their baby.

“I hope what the parents have been thinking is wrong and the council can answer why there were no ashes, and if there were ashes where they went.”

Earlier today, Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s environment leader, said she had been assured there was “no evidence” babies’ ashes had been discarded in bins.

She said: “The information we have is that all ashes were put in the Garden of Remembrance.

“I have instructed a full investigation takes place into the historic practices at the crematorium which I hope will establish the facts of this tragic situation. We will continue to work with Sands to help those families who have been affected.”

Crematorium chiefs headed up ‘years of inhumanity’

By DAVID McCANN and DALE MILLER

BOSSES at a scandal-hit crematorium where babies’ ashes were secretly buried in a mass grave have come under fire for presiding over “decades of

inhumanity”.

Criticism has been heaped on former managers at Mortonhall Crematorium who failed to tell parents that their babies’ remains were buried in cardboard boxes in a back lawn.

Today, the Evening News can reveal the names of two senior ex-managers who worked at the crematorium while the practice was being carried out.

They are former crematorium superintendent Anne Grannum and head of bereavement services George Bell. It is understood both have now retired from the crematorium.

An independent inquiry into the scandal will focus on the role senior staff like Mr Bell and Ms Grannum may have played in policy implementation it was confirmed last night.

City environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds, pictured, said former and current staff would be interviewed as part of an internal investigation, the findings of which are due to be made public next month.

Cllr Hinds added she expected the report would determine who was responsible for the scandal.

We tried to put a list of questions to Ms Grannum and Mr Bell to answer last night. But both former managers declined to comment when approached by the Evening News.

Other staff members who work at the council-run crematorium said they had been told not to speak to the media. It is thought Ms Grannum retired from the top job last year while Mr Bell hit the headlines in 1996 for turning detective to help bereaved parents find their babies’ unmarked grave.

Mr Bell worked for the city council for 30 years but retired last year and moved to manage a private crematorium in the Scottish Borders. It is understood he is working for the Westerleigh group and based at Borders Crematorium in

Melrose.

A profile on the firm’s website praises Mr Bell’s “experience and knowledge”.

It reads: “This experience and knowledge has seen George serve on the Scottish Government Review Group, which most recently has helped to develop the proposed Certification of Death (Scotland) Bill, as well as being a long-standing member of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities where he led the Scottish Committee as technical representative and chairman.”

The News previously reported how Mr Bell has sought to help parents of stillborn babies trace their final resting place after many were buried in unmarked paupers’ graves.

Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald described the shameful practice at the crematorium as constituting “decades of inhumanity”, adding: “I think it’s one of the most inhumane things that I’ve heard of for a very long time. I was quite shocked by it.

“We don’t know who over the years did question it because it went on for a very long time. There may have been other people who did question it, but didn’t for whatever reason go public with it.”

Jim Eadie, Edinburgh Southern MSP, said the practice was “utterly unnacceptable” and said those found responsible should be reprimanded.

“If there are still people employed there who took these decisions, they have to be held to account for the decisions they have taken,” he said.

Meanwhile, questions are set to be raised in the Scottish Parliament today, with MSPs expected to call for an inquiry into the scandal.

Dumbarton MSP Jackie Baillie said: “Everyone’s thoughts will be with those who have been affected by the revelations of what happened at Mortonhall Crematorium in dealing with the ashes of stillborn babies.

“Edinburgh Council has announced a full investigation into what happened and this is to be welcomed. Answers and explanations are needed as to what happened and

why.

“This must never happen again and my thoughts and prayers are with all the families involved.”

Echoing this view, Lothians MSP Gavin Brown said the probe needs to get to the bottom of the matter, for the sake of anguished parents’ peace of mind.

He said: “This situation in Edinburgh is completely unacceptable and it’s vital the council investigates this as a matter of urgency, establishes all the facts and ensures this is never repeated for the sake of families, who have already endured more suffering than most of us could comprehend.”

Cllr Hinds has also said it is likely that individual sets of ashes will never be identified.

“The ash from a single cremation was placed in its own biodegradable box and interred in the Garden of Remembrance,” she said. “There’ll be no markings I would have thought in terms of identifying one from the other.”

‘If ever there’s been case for full inquiry, this is it’

DALE MILLER

A FLOOD of compensation claims by families affected by the Mortonhall scandal has been labelled inevitable by a top personal injury lawyer.

Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors, said there was a compelling case for a judicial inquiry to determine why babies’ cremated remains were buried in a mass unmarked grave at the city council-run facility rather than returned to their parents.

Several parents are understood to have already contacted lawyers about suing the council and Mr McGuire predicted it would only be the start.

He said: “It’s absolutely appalling. My opinion would be that this scandal has all the hallmarks of a situation that will run and run legally.

“From what I’ve heard, the families must have a basis for being able to take forward a claim of recompense for the appalling way they’ve been treated and the impact this has had.

“The claim would be assessed on the psychological and emotional distress that the incident has caused, the untold pressure that it’s put on the families.”

Mr McGuire, right, said he would advise families to put forward a collective claim.

The number of babies’ ashes dumped at the Howdenhall Road facility remains unknown, but could run into the hundreds.

“My own view of these things is that strength always comes in numbers,” Mr McGuire said. “The more the families band together, the better. That’s in due respect mostly in terms of being able to ensure that the cases all follow the same line, take the same voice that they are all in one.

“It’s also because the compensation side of it is absolutely one thing I would support, but the other aspect that’s not been spoken about yet is the absolute right that the families have, and indeed all of the community has, for answers.

“If ever there’s been a case for a full inquiry to take place in Scotland, this is one. How is it that this practice has gone on unchallenged, unquestioned behind closed doors for as long as it has?”

The crematorium’s actions are expected to be challenged in court based on human rights’ legislation.

Mr McGuire said compensation could easily run into millions of pounds. “If it is as widespread as it seems, the bill will be substantial.

“I’ve never personally seen this before. It is as shocking as it is because it appears to be as unique as it is.”

The public needs to know

THE questions an inquiry needs to answer are:

• Who was responsible for this policy?

• Were senior figures in the council aware this was going on?

• How could this continue unchecked for so long?

• Did anyone raise concerns with management or Edinburgh City Council?

• Why were parents lied to by crematorium staff?

• Were some ashes buried and others disposed of?

• What records were kept during this time period?

• What reason is there for not returning the ashes of dead babies to their parents?

• Will parents receive compensation for the grief they have suffered as a result of this policy?

 

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