Mortonhall: Family in baby ashes truth plea

Gary McDougall pictured at Mortonhall Crematorium.  Picture:  Ian Rutherford
Gary McDougall pictured at Mortonhall Crematorium. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A DEVASTATED family who were told their lost baby’s ashes had been buried in an unmarked plot at Mortonhall have again been told there were no remains.

Arlene and Gary McDougall were shell-shocked when they were told six months ago that ashes for baby Fraser – cremated in 1999 – were interred in the garden of rest after initially believing the claim fed to countless parents that there were no ashes.

Baby Fraser

Baby Fraser

But the couple have been dealt a further blow after fresh, post-audit documents emerged claiming there are no records for the tot, raising fears among parents that records may have been tampered with in light of the scandal.

The conflicting information has emerged as a result of the audit of Mortonhall’s records by Price-
waterhouseCoopers and will now be at the heart of the investigation launched by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.

“It’s just cruel,” said Arlene, 52, of Howdenhall. “To be told there’d be no ashes when we cremated Fraser, to discovering last November that there were and they’d been buried – just feet from his grandmother’s house in Howdenhall – and now to get a sheet of paper from the council saying there were no remains again . . . it’s impossible to describe the hurt. We feel we can’t trust anything we’re being told, that we’ll never know the truth.”

The couple said that it was only the day before Fraser’s funeral in November 1999 that they were told there were would be no ashes to collect. “We went to the crematorium to hand in music we wanted played during his funeral,” recalls Gary, also 52. “We had never discussed ashes with the funeral director at all, so we asked when we would be able to collect them. Arlene wanted them placed with her father’s.”

But the shocked couple were told “there was no such thing as ashes from a baby”. Arlene said: “We put a plaque to Fraser in the Rose Garden at Mortonhall and visited it for the last 13 years knowing he wasn’t really there, he wasn’t anywhere. Then when I heard at the end of last November from Sands that some babies’ ashes had been buried I knew I had to find out if Fraser was there. I saw the manager and he told me the records stated that Fraser’s ashes were interred in the garden of rest.”

Arlene claims a groundsman pointed out the exact spot at which the ashes were interred, adding: “He thought it was awful. He said to me they’d always known what they were doing was wrong.”

But last week, as part of the council’s commitment to show all parents affected the records of their child’s cremation, Arlene and Gary were told again that there had been “no remains”. Furthermore, the record stated Fraser had been stillborn when in fact he had lived for 11 minutes.

“We showed the council woman who came to see us our copy of the record from the crematorium. She couldn’t understand it, she looked quite shaken,” said Gary. “There’s no explanation for it. And we know we’re not the only ones. It makes you think someone has been changing the records, covering things up.”

Dorothy Maitland – of Sands Lothian – the bereavement charity which discovered ashes had been disposed of without parents’ knowledge – said: “It seems to us that the only way of really getting to the truth is to have a full public inquiry.”

Patrick McGuire of Thomspons Solicitors, who represents many of the affected families, said: “Families are being given completely contradictory information on official paper from the council.”

A council spokesman said: “It appears there may be inconsistencies in some records and this will be looked at as part of Dame Elish’s investigation. At the request of parents we agreed to share factual information from the audit with them. However we explained to them that we might not be able to answer all their questions and therefore parents may want to wait for the outcome of the investigation, which some have chosen to do.”