ONE of the city’s top officials has been suspended over the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal. Mark Turley, 54, is the most senior director at the department governing Mortonhall Crematorium where hundreds of families were denied their babies’ remains after they were secretly buried by staff.
His suspension yesterday morning comes one week after a 600-page dossier into the scandal was made public following a year-long investigation by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.
It is thought the suspension may have been triggered by the damning report which is understood to have ignited concerns at City Chambers about a pervasive “hands off approach” to the crematorium.
Mr Turley is the director of services for communities and commands a salary of £123,000. He has a £500 million-a-year budget at his disposal and a workforce of more than 3500.
In a letter to councillors, chief executive Sue Bruce highlighted a “number of matters requiring due consideration” for suspending the director.
However – in addition to Mortonhall – the Evening News understands Mr Turley could also face questions about the statutory repairs scandal that forced the collapse of the former property conservation department in 2011 and, possibly, the wall at Liberton High School which killed Keane Wallis-Bennett.
When approached at his £400,000 five-bedroom property in Queen Margaret Close – less than a mile from Mortonhall Crematorium – Mr Turley, dressed in a blue T-shirt, slacks and white socks, refused to answer questions and abruptly slammed the door. Several door locks and dead bolts could be heard being fixed into position.
In Dame Elish’s exhaustive report, Mr Turley was said to be “unaware” that practices at Mortonhall “differed from that taking place in Seafield and Warriston” or that these other crematoria “were returning ashes to parents from infant cremations”.
The report added: “Most meetings between managers at the crematorium and with their line managers appeared to focus on budgets and finance rather than policy or practice. The issue of the cremation of foetuses and babies and whether or not remains were recovered and returned to parents does not seem to have been discussed even though Mortonhall was operating so differently to the other crematoria in Edinburgh over so many years.”
Campaigner Dorothy Maitland, one of the parents who uncovered the scandal said: “This man was in a well-paid position and he should have been overseeing everything that has happened. The buck does not stop with Mr Turley – there are still others and we want to see them being held accountable as well.”
Willie Reid, chairman of the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee, said the suspension was “welcome”.
While no city councillors would speak publicly about Mr Turley’s suspension, some spoke anonymously. One said: “I think this is [chief executive] Sue Bruce laying down a marker to other directors of departments, saying ‘it’s not good enough not to know what’s happening under your nose’.”
Another well-placed source said: “Mark could well be a sacrificial lamb following all the bad press with Mortonhall and statutory repairs, but with his remit it is impossible to be across everything.”
A council spokesperson confirmed the suspension. “The council’s director of services of communities, Mark Turley, has been suspended on full pay pending an internal investigation.”
I am writing to advise you that in light of a number of matters requiring due consideration, I have this morning suspended Mark Turley, Director of Services for Communities, pending investigation.
As you are aware, matters relating to an individual’s employment, particularly in respect of investigations, are confidential and subject to employment law and data protection legislation. As I am sure you will appreciate, it is important that we take care to respect this confidentiality and ensure that matters are handled in an appropriate manner.
In the meantime, John Bury will be acting Director. I have briefed the Corporate Communications team to handle any media enquiries.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.
The City of Edinburgh Council
A father-of-two, Mark Turley began working for the City Council as director of housing in 1993.
In 2006, he was put in charge of the newly-established services for communities which oversees everything from street lights and schools to libraries and council houses.
He pushed through tough but necessary reforms on bin collections, which made him deeply unpopular with refuse staff.
Originally from Sheffield, Mr Turley began working in local government in 1981 having graduated from the University of Leicester with a degree in psychology. He also has a Masters Degree in Business Administration from Sheffield Business School. He relaxes by playing the violin.