MSPs run rule over ashes scandal law

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A NEW law to ensure there can never be a repeat of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal is about to be examined by MSPs ahead of its passage through the Scottish Parliament.

Politicians say they want to hear from people affected by the issues.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill will introduce a legal definition of ashes, require authorities to keep details of both burials and cremations indefinitely and ensure records are kept of stillbirths and lost pregnancies.

It is based largely on recommendations made by review groups set up in the wake of the ashes scandal and will replace a raft of existing laws, some dating back more than a century.

The Evening News revealed in December 2012 how staff at the council-run Mortonhall had been telling parents since the crematorium opened in 1967 that no ashes were left after babies were cremated when, in fact, the ashes of infants were being secretly buried without their parents’ knowledge.

Similar cases were later uncovered in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Fife.

The Infant Cremation Commission, set up by the Scottish Government and chaired by Lord Bonomy, reported in June last year with 64 recommendations, including an urgent review of cremation practices.

The Bill, which was officially published earlier this month, will now be scrutinised by two Scottish Parliament committees and MSPs are asking people to submit their views.

The health and sport committee will focus on measures concerning pregnancy loss, stillbirth and infant loss and wants to hear from people who may have been affected on whether the measures are fit for purpose.

Meanwhile, the local government and regeneration committee will look at regulation of funeral directors.

Health committee convener, Labour MSP Duncan McNeil said: “The loss of a much longed for and loved child is a tragedy that few of us can comprehend. The fact that for too many people this loss may have been compounded by confusion and inconsistency around cremation and burial is unacceptable.

“The Bill before us rightly aims to address these inconsistencies. But we want to know if these measures achieve this. We realise for many that this is a painful subject, but only by hearing from those who have been directly affected can we be sure the Bill makes real improvements to the current system.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com