Families visit new Mortonhall memorial garden

Families affected by the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal have visited a new memorial garden.

Friday, 4th December 2015, 6:06 pm
Dorothy Maitland and Willie Reid Looks at a memorial for her daughter. Picture: TSPL

Over decades, the remains of stillborn and dead newborn babies were disposed of at the Edinburgh crematorium without the families knowing. Parents were instead told there would be no ashes left to scatter following cremation.

The scandal emerged three years ago and led to a year-long inquiry by former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini into the council-owned crematorium’s practices from 1967 to 2011.

Earlier this year, officials at Edinburgh City Council revealed designs for two permanent memorials - one at Mortonhall and another elsewhere in the city as some families said they would never return to the crematorium grounds.

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Dorothy Maitland and Willie Reid were among the parents who visited Mortonhall on Friday to view the memorial garden, which features their daughters’ names among 149 plaques which run along the inner walls.

The garden, chosen by affected parents following a series of consultations, includes beech hedges, birch trees, a stone ball water feature, rocks, a pathway and seating, and is situated off the existing memorial walkway near the main chapel.

Ms Maitland, who was operations manager of charity Sands Lothians when the scandal was uncovered, had her daughter Kaelen cremated at Mortonhall in 1986.

After visiting the garden, she said: “I think it’s very important to have a memorial and I know some parents will find it very difficult to go back to Mortonhall but I’m hoping that they will change their mind when they see the garden.

“Some parents are still finding it so difficult to accept what happened that right now a memorial is not of any comfort. I really hope that in time when they heal a bit more that they will be able to visit the garden and have their baby’s name added and find comfort by doing this.

“It means so much to many parents to have somewhere where they can go that is nice and tranquil. It shows to everyone that each of these babies matters whether their names are on the memorial or not - it’s for all babies.”

Mr Reid, whose baby daughter Donna was cremated at Mortonhall in 1988, added: “It’s a beautiful garden, it’s just what we need - a place to come and reflect and remember our babies.

“It gives recognition that for many years babies’ ashes were treated wrongly and without any dignity. This now gives us some dignity for those babies and allows their memories and legacies to live on.”

The garden’s designer Becky Govier said: “I wanted to create something that would reflect what the parents wanted - most importantly a space and garden they would feel comfortable in.

“The circular shape feels like two large hands that are coming together, embracing and protecting those within.”

In the wake of the Mortonhall revelations, a separate independent commission, led by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy, was later set up to review policies and practice across Scotland.

His report, published in June last year, produced 64 recommendations for change, which the Scottish Government accepted ‘’in full, and without reservation’’.

The creation of a memorial was one of the 22 recommendations produced in Dame Elish’s 600-page report commissioned by the council’s then chief executive Dame Sue Bruce, who has now praised the parents involved in the working group.

“I think what they have done as bereaved parents is actually really unbelievable,” said Dame Sue.

“They have created a legacy here not only in this physical garden but also in the law that is being reformed and in the way that practice will be in the future.

“I have nothing but respect for the parents who chased and pushed and asked questions and then worked with us to bring this to fruition.”

Andrew Kerr, the current chief executive of the city council, said: “The work of the Mortonhall Multi-Agency Working Group will continue so nothing like this can happen again.

“Lessons have been learnt and the action plan produced last year has now been fully implemented so we can ensure the highest possible standards are adhered to at Mortonhall.”