GRIEVING parents have insisted the Mortonhall Crematorium ashes scandal is “just the tip of the iceberg” and is about to become a UK-wide issue, as they repeated calls for a full public inquiry.
• Fears that Mortonhall practice more widespread throughout Scotland.
• Mortonhall Crematorium buried ashes of youngsters who were stillborn or were just days old when they died without telling the parents for 45 years.
• Parents have called for public inquiry to be held.
Parents and campaigners made the fresh demand at a packed public meeting at which leading lawyer Patrick McGuire labelled the scandal
“the worst to ever be uncovered in Scotland”.
The call came just hours after council bosses, led by Mike Rosendale, head of schools and community services, recommended in a report that an independent person be appointed to oversee and direct a probe into the revelations.
The independent inquiry will look at policy and practice in other local authority areas, after the council said its initial inquiries “suggest there are variations in practice across Scotland”.
It has also been confirmed that chief executive Sue Bruce will continue to hold talks with the Scottish Government on issues arising from the investigation that could be “of national importance” – suggesting the scandal may not be confined to Edinburgh.
Dorothy Maitland, operations manager at Sands Lothians, the charity which made the findings, also believes the practice of ashes being withheld from parents, could stretch far beyond the Capital.
She told last night’s packed meeting: “I think Mortonhall could well be just the tip of the iceberg. This is not just confined to Edinburgh. I’ve had women from Glasgow contact me claiming that they too haven’t been provided with any ashes and a female reporter from the south of England also said the same to me following an interview. This is going to open a
massive can of worms.”
Ms Maitland – who discovered that the ashes of her daughter
Kaelen, who died aged nine days old in 1986, had been buried in Mortonhall’s grounds without her knowledge – welcomed the council’s report and recommendations.
But she added: “This is as much as the council can do really and during meetings they have expressed deep regret over what occurred, but a public inquiry is what is needed to give parents the answers they need and to give the public 100 per cent reassurance that it will never happen again.”
Mr McGuire and his firm, Thompsons Solicitors, specialise in public inquiries and he told parents that they need to “keep pushing until you get what you want”.
Thompsons has been involved in several high-profile public inquiries, such as those into the Stockline plastic factory explosion, the Vale of Leven Hospital C-diff scandal and the Penrose inquiry into those infected with Hepatitis C through NHS blood.
But Mr McGuire insisted “Mortonhall is bigger than them all”.
He told the meeting at Craiglockhart Tennis Centre: “A public inquiry is entirely independent as it is presided over by a top judge and is open to the public. You can become involved in the process and affect the way it takes place. Bringing about a public inquiry requires raising and maintaining a public profile and never going away until it happens.
“An independent audit and report suggested by the council is one thing, but the families and bereaved will have no input or influence – nothing should be done behind closed doors.”
He added: “In terms of the public inquiries I’ve previously worked on, this is easily the worst scandal to ever be uncovered in Scotland.”
William Reid, 46, from Bathgate, who lost his daughter Donna to major complications following her birth at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1988, spoke out at the meeting.
His daughter lived for just 46 hours and was cremated at Mortonhall – William and his then-partner never received any ashes.
He said: “A public inquiry is the only way forward. An independent investigation as proposed by the council will have no legal powers and therefore cannot summon former employees to give evidence. All we want are answers as to what went on and why we were told what we were told.”
Recommendations from the council’s report were released early yesterday, ahead of its full publication next week. While the council would not reveal exactly what had been uncovered during its own investigations, it said it had always accepted that an independent inquiry may be needed to convince the public to trust its
findings. Council cremation records from the past 40 years are currently also being independently audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers in an attempt to uncover the full truth.
City environment convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said in a statement: “Having received these findings I feel it is only right and proper, and taking into account the views of parents, that an independent person now completes the inquiry.
“This person would also look at all the recommendations in the report, which include ensuring the council has clear policies in relation to
cremations and that they comply with national guidelines.
“The independent audit of crematorium records will continue so we can get comprehensive information from which we will try to deal with the questions and concerns of families.
“We have been keeping Sands updated as the investigation has progressed and will carry on working closely with them over the coming months.
“Discussions over a permanent memorial will continue.”
The council’s recommendations
The council’s report into the Mortonhall Crematorium scandal will recommend:
• An independent person is appointed to direct further inquiries, including looking at policy and practice in other local authority areas.
• A review of current policy, practice, equipment and staff training to ensure national guidance is complied with in conjunction with stakeholders such as the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM), the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (FBCA), NHS Lothian, Funeral Directors, Sands Lothians and other organisations.
• Discussions continue over an appropriate memorial.
• Independent auditors to carry on their work into crematorium records.
• Parents who made inquiries receive a full explanation regarding recovery or non-recovery of ashes and have access to records informing that explanation at the conclusion of the probe.
• The council should continue to facilitate counselling support.
Tears and anger at emotional meeting
EMOTIONS ran high as grieving parents joined campaigners to pack out the tennis centre.
It was standing room only as the full horror that the scandal could be UK-wide dawned on parents.
Tearful mums and dads who were denied their babies’ ashes only for them to be secretly buried at Mortonhall left officials in no doubt they wanted answers and would not stop until they got them.
Dorothy Maitland, of charity Sands Lothian, chaired the meeting and began by drawing attention to a single lit candle on the table representing the “precious little babies”.
She then told how she had met with council chiefs and environment convener Lesley Hinds earlier that day and that Mortonhall records were now “under lock and key” and ready for inspection.
To cries of “shocking” from some parents, she also told them that council officials would not be in contact with any of the parents until the probe was complete at the end of March or beginning of April.
Parents also ruled out Mortonhall itself as a suitable place for a planned memorial to their children. A review committee, chaired by Gillian Bell from Sands, was formed to orchestrate the remembrance campaign.