Mortonhall: Baby ashes truth ‘will never come out’

An investigation is underway at Mortonhall. Picture: Toby Williams
An investigation is underway at Mortonhall. Picture: Toby Williams
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HUNDREDS of bereaved parents will never know what happened to the ashes of their cremated babies, the Evening News can reveal today.

A two-month-long investigation by independent auditors into the records of Edinburgh City Council’s crematorium has uncovered such poor book-keeping that some cremations were not registered while others were given the briefest of annotations with no account of what happened to the ashes.

The forensic analysis of the 45-year-old crematorium’s records was launched in January in an attempt by the council to uncover the truth of the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal.

A team of auditors from professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was drafted in to search more than 100,000 records.

While PwC’s audit is yet to be completed, bereavement charity Sands Lothians, which first uncovered the scandal, has been told that for some parents there will be no answers.

Today, Dorothy Maitland, the charity’s operations manager, said: “We had a meeting with council officials at which we were told that the record keeping at the crematorium was not good. In fact, it seems to have been so bad in some cases that there’s no record of some cremations having taken place, when we know that they have.

“I would have thought that for every cremation which took place there should be a record of it. I can’t believe that it’s not illegal not to keep proper records. The whole thing is becoming more hurtful by the day. For some parents, particularly those who suffered a stillbirth, it’s as though their babies never existed.”

Parents affected will this week receive a letter from council chief executive Sue Bruce updating them on the audit and the independent investigation which has yet to be officially started by former solicitor general, Dame Elish Angiolini.

It is believed that it will tell parents the PwC audit will be completed shortly and that parents will be contacted again to let them see the records there are for their babies – although they will not, by then, have been reviewed by Dame Elish.

She has not yet launched her investigation, as Lothian and Borders Police is still conducting criminal inquiries into the practices at Mortonhall, although the Evening News understands that background work has started.

Her role will involve assessing the initial findings of the council and current policy and practice, reviewing the Mortonhall records, interviewing staff, to assess and comment on historical staff practices, to understand the rationale behind such practices, and review guidance.

Once the scandal broke, the cremation logs were removed from the Howdenhall Road institution and taken to the council’s headquarters at Waverley Court to discover how many stillborn babies, or those who died within days of being born, were cremated and what happened to their ashes.

For decades, parents were told by Mortonhall staff that there were no ashes to scatter or keep from the cremations, but in fact remains were put in cardboard boxes and buried without their parents’ knowledge.


MORTONHALL Ashes Action Committee chairman Willie Reid, 46, from Bathgate, lost his new-born daughter, Donna, because of medical complications. She was cremated at Mortonhall in 1988.

He said: “This surely reinforces the view that this scandal is something for the police and a public inquiry, not an internal council review. Legally, all cremations must be registered.

“I haven’t yet heard how any of this relates to what happened my baby. As a parent to hear that there might be no answers, after it all being dragged up again, makes it ten times worse.”