The pain of losing her son was devastating but more than 40 years later a grieving mum is still desperately fighting for the chance to lay him to rest peacefully.
Lydia Reid, 69, has been on the hunt for the truth behind what happened to her baby’s remains for 42 years and, refusing to give up on her son Gary Paton, has now issued a desperate plea for help to fund a legal battle to get what’s left of him back.
Her quest to find out what happened to Gary after he died at the Sick Kids in July 1975 at just seven days old, met with fresh heartache a year ago when she discovered his coffin was buried with no body inside.
She has launched a #justice4garypaton campaign on donation website Crowd Justice to try and raise an initial £5,000 which will go towards legal fees in a bid to get back and bury her baby’s remains.
With brutal honesty and in the face of a mother’s worst nightmare, Lydia has been forced to turn to the public for help.
She said: “I’m trying to raise funds to get all we have left of him to bury.
“These parts are currently held hostage by Crown Office. I am fighting to get them back.
“NHS Scotland currently hold the only parts left of my son. I want to bury them and give him a burial at last.
“He has waited since 1975. These small parts are all we have left of him.”
Ms Reid has spent decades campaigning to expose how hospitals unlawfully kept dead children’s body parts for research, following revelations of organ retention at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital. She suspects her son’s organs were taken without permission but has never found proof.
After 42 years of trying to find out what happened to Gary, a court order was finally granted for an exhumation at the Saughton Cemetery burial plot, but there was no evidence a body had ever been in the coffin.
Leading forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black conducted the exhumation, and concluded that the coffin was buried with no skeletal remains and there was no sign of decomposition.
Prof Black said at the time: “Ultimately there is only one possible logical explanation and that is that the body was not put in that coffin.
“Lydia believed the baby in the grave may not be hers. The aim was to find bone for DNA analysis.”
The coffin was found about 6ft down and identified by a misspelt nameplate.
Prof Black, director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, added: “When we first went down into the grave site there was a lot of funeral clothing, so our expectation was that we had found what we were looking for.
“So we had wool, cotton and even a little cross, all preserved incredibly well – but there were no human remains. There was no baby in the coffin. There is no other answer because you never get that level of preservation of coffin and not have a body be preserved. There is no hair inside the hat, there is no bone inside the coffin shroud.”
Ms Reid never had the chance to hold her baby and when she asked to see her son, she was shown a child that she said was not hers.
She said: “In the undertakers, I was shown a baby which was not my own son. I demanded to see my son. His body was being used elsewhere. I will probably never be sure for what. Many babies and parts of babies were thrown on the ground in yellow plastic bags before putting them into incinerators that heated hospitals. His body has disappeared and I am unlikely to get him back now.
“What I can get back are the parts left after his post mortem. I can get back the parts left after his operation. I can give him as near as possible a funeral.
“To do that I need to raise an action against NHS Lothian and eventually Police Scotland/Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Office.”
Ms Reid’s lawyers said it could cost up to £50,000 to raise an action to ask for the return of body parts to allow for identification and burial.
Prof Black said the execution of the “burial” indicated Gary’s case was not an isolated incident and called for an investigation.
Nicola Sturgeon also vowed to help Ms Reid after her case was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Gordon Lindhurst, Conservative MSP.
He said: “This revelation comes after 42 years of her seeking to discover what happened to the remains of her child and her leading the campaign which exposed how hospitals had unlawfully kept deceased children’s body parts for research purposes.
“Will the First Minister commit to finding the answers to what happened in Lydia Reid’s case and can she confirm that everything will be done to discover whether this has happened to other families as well?”
Extending her sympathies to Mr Reid, Ms Sturgeon said: “It is very difficult for any of us who haven’t gone through experiences like this to fully appreciate and understand the distress that Lydia Reid and any others in a similar situation would be experiencing and I can only imagine what that must be.
“Clearly there has been some work around issues of this nature in the past, but I will give an assurance today that the relevant minister will be happy to meet with Lydia Reid to see what the Scottish Government or our agencies can do to try to ensure that she gets the answers that she certainly deserves and will personally feel she needs in order to allow her to move on from this revelation.”
Donations can be made at www.crowdjustice.com/case/justice4garypaton.