Mortonhall mix-up: Mum had funeral for wrong baby

Lyndsey Steadman felt something was wrong at the first funeral she attended at Mortonhall. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Lyndsey Steadman felt something was wrong at the first funeral she attended at Mortonhall. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A DEVASTATED mum attended what she thought was the funeral for her stillborn baby – only to later find out it was not the service for her child.

Lyndsey Steadman thought she was attending a service at Mortonhall Crematorium for her baby Cody, only to receive a telephone call a week later to say the funeral had yet to take place.

The 35-year-old believes she’s the only mum in Britain to suffer the anguish of having to go through the funeral of a dead tot twice.

The mystery first service was only attended by her family, including her mother and aunt. She told the News: “I’ll never get over this.”

Cody was stillborn at Simpson’s Maternity Unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 2006. She was just 20 weeks old. The family’s heartbreak has emerged for the first time as a result of the scandal surrounding the ashes of stillborn children at Mortonhall. An investigation by police and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini is currently underway into historic practices at the crematorium.

Lyndsey, who said she has never received a formal apology for what happened, is now calling for a full explanation as to what took place with her child.

The NHS helps to arrange services for stillborn children but has denied having made a mistake and said the details would have been handled by a funeral director.

But regardless of blame, the story once again shines a spotlight on how traumatised parents are treated following a stillborn or neo-natal death.

Lyndsey recalled: “I was taken to hospital by ambulance because I started bleeding. It was a very traumatic birth because I lost a lot of blood and they thought I was going to need a blood transfusion.

“I was only out of the hospital for two or three days when I got the phone call from the maternity ward to say the arrangements for the funeral had been made for the Friday. I did think it was odd that the service was taking place so quickly because I’d just left the hospital.” The service was held at Mortonhall but Lyndsey said she felt something was wrong at the time.

She said: “When I got there, a woman came up to me and she was very abrupt with me. She just said that I was late, I wasn’t asked for my name or anything.

“I wasn’t late – as if you are going to be late on a day as important as that. But I just had a feeling that there was something wrong – I had a feeling that it wasn’t my child. I was so devastated that day I just went on to autopilot.

“They never asked me what I wanted to do with the ashes so I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know what happened to the child.

“I had a service and it was somebody else’s baby – what about the 
parents who the child belonged to?”

But two days after the service took place, Lyndsey received a phone call from the hospital – again to tell her that the service had been organised, this time for the following Friday.

Lyndsey, who has a 16-year-old daughter, Shellie, said: “I was in the living room when the woman phoned and said she was calling from the ERI.

“She told me the funeral arrangements had been made for the Friday, but I told her that was impossible because I had already been to the funeral. She said she could not explain what had happened and that I shouldn’t have got a phone call the first time. Every single day I go over what happened in my head – I just can’t get over it. I had to go and bury my child again and they never 
apologised to me.”

Compounding her grief, Lyndsey had another baby, Lucas, three years later, but he only lived for an hour.

She said: “I couldn’t believe that it could happen to me again. But this time I made sure I arranged everything by myself, I had a service for Lucas at Warriston Crematorium because I didn’t want to take any chances after what had happened before.”

Doctors think Lyndsey‘s cervix was weakened after she had a procedure to remove precancerous cells, which left her unable to carry a child past six months. Since losing Cody and Lucas, Lyndsey went on to have a miscarriage.

Lyndsey – from Moredun – said: “I went to a lawyer to discuss what happened because I want some closure.

“But he said there was nothing that could be done because he has never heard of a case like this before.

“I’m just so angry about the whole thing. It was a mistake at the hospital originally, but if I had have just been asked for my name at the crematorium this might not have happened.

“The hospital offered me bereavement counselling but I never took it up because I had lost trust in everyone.”

A family member who attended both funeral services said Lyndsey was devastated by the ordeal. She said: “We went to the first service and it all just seemed normal. We went and sat in the room with they coffin and they played nice music. There has clearly been some sort of confusion. It’s terrible.”

Advice from the stillbirth and neonatal death society Sands Lothian says when a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth, many hospitals will offer to arrange a simple funeral ceremony followed by a burial or cremation. Normally, no charge is made although there may be a small administrative fee and some hospitals suggest a voluntary contribution from parents.

The hospital will tell the bereaved which funeral director they contract to organise the funeral in case they wish to further discuss the arrangements.

Dorothy Maitland, operations 
manager of Sands Lothian, said: “It’s bad enough losing an unborn baby but attending a funeral service for a child that’s not yours is just horrendous.”

Dr David Farquharson, medical director, NHS Lothian, said: “We understand that this must have been a distressing time for Ms Steadman.

“Our midwives and pastoral care team support mothers who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy in providing them with information on the options available for the final act of care for their baby. We also provide assistance in completing the required paperwork.

“This information is passed on to a funeral director who will make the arrangements as requested and will contact the family directly with the details of the date and time of the cremation. This role is not carried out by hospital staff. We would ask that Ms Steadman and her family contact the funeral director concerned and we would be happy to explain the process if this would be helpful.”

A spokesperson for the funeral directors H&W Harkess, said: “We understand this was a difficult time for Ms Steadman and are sorry to hear about the situation but we were not made aware of this until now.

“We can confirm that the date of the funeral was 28 April, 2006, and these details would have been passed on to Ms Steadman as requested.

“We have no records to show that the date had ever been changed.”

Start inquiry now, says senior MSP

THE inquiry into how the remains of cremated babies are disposed of should begin immediately and not be kept on hold until a police probe into the Mortonhall ashes scandal finishes, said a senior politician.

Duncan McNeil, the leader of Holyrood’s health and sport committee, said he was concerned that questions would remain unanswered until the conclusion of the police investigation in the Capital.

Mr McNeil, Labour MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde, said the police inquiry in Edinburgh could run at the same time as the wider investigation, due to be headed by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini.

Mr McNeil said: “This needs to be resolved.”