Gina Davidson: At least it can’t happen again

Mortonhall. Picture: Toby Williams
Mortonhall. Picture: Toby Williams
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A YEAR ago today the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal was first revealed in the pages of this paper.

The story told how for decades grieving parents were informed there would be no ashes after the cremations of their babies, whether they survived a few days or were stillborn, when in fact the ashes were being buried in an unmarked plot in the crematorium grounds.

It was a tale of horror, sadness and pathos, but for those involved it was one of excruciating grief, anger and even guilt as the loss they once suffered reared its tear-stained face again.

And it was a scandal which launched an inquiry headed by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, as well as a Scottish Government review into the practices and policies of council crematoria when it later transpired that the same situation existed in other parts of Scotland.

If you go to Mortonhall these days – if you can get past the JCBs, white vans, workmen and ignore the pneumatic drill which rents the peace and quiet asunder – you’ll find soft toys, single roses, cellophane-wrapped bouquets and other markers of love and remembrance scattered here and there across a large grassy area near the crematorium’s enormous wooden cross.

Rather ironically, these gifts and trinkets look as though they may have been dropped by a first-time father hastening to meet his newborn, excitement rendering his ability to hold on to everything he carries a physical impossibility. The baubles of love trail in his wake.

Instead, they have been carefully placed in spots where parents believe, think, hope their child’s ashes may well rest.

For even now, a year on, the parents affected by the ashes scandal don’t know for sure where their babies’ ashes are buried.

Those who have gone to Mortonhall to ask have been taken by groundsmen and in lengths of strides had years and months counted out across the grass, a final resting place revealed in an estimate of paces.

Then there are those who after being informed that ashes had been retrieved and buried even had that snatched from them by being told once more that there were none when the council combed through the ledgers of the crematorium, though such a statement has been proven a physical impossibility time and again by other crematoria.

Dame Elish is nearing the end of her inquiry. She’s spoken to parents, to former and current staff, to experts in the crematoria business around the UK . . . to anyone and everyone whom she feels might be able to shed a little light on just what went on at Mortonhall, to try and answer the question at the heart of everyone affected: why would staff lie to bereaved parents about the existence of babies ashes?

Next month her report is due to be finished and published – released in January to try and ensure another Christmas is not ruined for the affected parents and their families. There is a lot hanging on her words.

The possibility of civil action against Mortonhall – and therefore the council – is still in the air as some parents have contacted lawyers. There’s also a chance that the police may well be asked to investigate further. Most of all the fear that some parents will never have an answer weighs heavily on those offering support at bereavement charity Sands 
Lothians.

One thing is for sure. After a year of investigations and inquiries, the possibility of this ever happening again in Scotland is now nil.

And that is a gift from the parents who have been grieving again this last year to those who will experience similar grief in the future.

TIME FOR TRAMZZZZ

BY the time this column appears I will have spent precious sleeping time up and awake and on Princes Street to witness the first tram to run along the road for more than 50 years. It better have been worth it.

You’re making a real difference

OUR Christmas Appeal for Edinburgh Women’s Aid has obviously touched hearts and minds as cheques have been winging their way to the charity’s offices in Cheyne Street.

But they could do with more, so please if you can, donate something to the work that the organisation does for women and children escaping from domestic abuse, most of the time with nothing but the clothes they’re wearing. If nothing else, it will at least ensure they can have a Christmas free from fear.

You can donate online at www.justgiving.com/edinburghwomensaid/donate. Thank you.

Goodwin not to blame for RBS online fiasco

DESPITE the fact that he’s probably not set foot in a branch of RBS since he was forced to resign in 2008 after the bank’s collapse, Fred “the Shred” Goodwin has been blamed for this week’s IT fiasco in which account holders were unable to use their bank cards.

I understand the thinking of current chief exec Ross McEwan – when you’ve got a scapegoat like Goodwin, below, tethered at Gogar HQ you’re going to drag him out whenever there’s an almighty cock-up.

But it’s been four years. It may be true that Goodwin failed to invest in IT when he was there, but it’s probably also just as likely that in the rush to slash staff levels to cut costs in the aftermath of the government bailout, many experienced IT employees were let go by Stephen Hester’s regime (most no doubt hurriedly being rehired right now as “consultants” and being paid even more).

It’s like the old argument we hear from every government which fails to meet its electoral pledges – it was the last lot’s fault. After a while it just doesn’t wash.

So sort it out Mr McEwan before you manage what even Fred didn’t – the closing of accounts by long-standing customers who just want to be able to do their online Christmas shopping.