Mortonhall parents ‘signatures were forged’

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POLICE are investigating claims that parents’ signatures were forged on documents giving permission for the disposal of their babies’ ashes at Mortonhall.

The damning report into the scandal by Dame Elish Angiolini has uncovered at least two cases where parents claim their signatures were faked on official documents. It comes as lawyers representing the families have warned that Edinburgh City Council now faces a flood of legal claims from anguished families. And today calls grew from families and politicians from all parties for a full public inquiry into the scandal.

Mortonhall. Picture: Greg Macvean

Mortonhall. Picture: Greg Macvean

The moves come as the city council and NHS Lothian were today continuing to examine the full implications of the report.

Dame Elish’s report said the section of the form giving parental consent for the disposal of remains was often left blank. But it said: “Some parents were shocked to see the instruction ‘disperse’ recorded on a form they have never seen. They are clear that they did not give this instruction.

In two cases parents were positive that the forms had been signed in their name but not by them and the investigation referred this matter to the police.

“In a third case the parents also told the investigation that the signature was not theirs but chose not to report this to the police.”

The Crown Office and Police Scotland said: “We can confirm that Crown Office/Procurator Fiscal Service has now seen the published report and will be carrying out further investigation with Police Scotland. It would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.”

Among the politicians joining parents in calling calling for an inquiry are Labour Lothian MSP and health spokesman Neil Findlay and Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson said today the Scottish Government had never ruled out the possibility of such a move.

But he said such an inquiry would not be able to give people the answers they were looking for on their individual cases.

He added: “My thoughts today are with all the families affected. I cannot begin to imagine how they must be feeling to not only lose a child, but then be put through the further trauma this report highlights.

“We are absolutely committed to changing the law and a wide-ranging bill is already planned.

“On that basis we established the independent Commission, chaired by Lord Bonomy, to examine current infant cremation policy, practice and legislation.”

Mr Matheson added: “The findings from Dame Elish’s report will be used to inform the wider national review.”

Solicitor Patrick McGuire, of Thompsons Solicitors, who represents many of the families involved, said they wanted lessons to be learned so that no-one else has to suffer in the same way.

“I expect that court proceedings will soon be starting on a very large scale,” he said. “I think the only route now is with an inquiry that looks across all of Scotland.

“By the time all of the truth is found out about this there won’t be a single community in Scotland that hasn’t been affected by this.”

The damning report sets out more than 20 recommendations – which the city council has said will be implemented.

Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale described the report as harrowing. “Reading it, I struggled to understand how what happened at Mortonhall could have occurred for so long unquestioned,” she said.

Dame Elish was appointed by the council at the start of last year. Her final report centred around the cases of more than 250 babies.

The crematorium was considered by the council as a model of excellence but “the reality was very different so far as it related to the cremation of foetuses, stillborn and neonatal babies”, the report said. It spoke of a belief at Mortonhall that the bones of foetuses and stillborn and neonatal babies could not survive the cremation process, despite information to the contrary. The investigation found “overwhelming evidence” that foetal bones do survive cremation.

The investigation revealed “inertia” over many years on the part of senior management at Mortonhall in their “continuing failure” to investigate why other city crematoriums were apparently successful in recovering babies’ remains.

There was also a “long-standing and wholesale failure” to comply with the duty to keep accurate records of the cremation, the report stated.

Dorothy Maitland, operations director of Sands Lothians, one of the affected parents, said she felt “total devastation”.

She said: “I feel very let down by a previous manager at Mortonhall – he blatantly told me on many occasions: ‘You don’t get ashes from a baby.’

“He seemed so genuine, I feel really let down. Worse than that, I feel like I’ve let my baby and my family down.

“We’ve wandered for years around Mortonhall wanting to put flowers down but didn’t know where to put them.”

Since the Mortonhall revelations emerged, some other local authorities, including Glasgow and Aberdeen city councils, faced questions about their practices. A separate independent commission, led by former High Court judge Lord Bonomy, was set up to review policies and practice across Scotland. His report is expected to be released in the coming weeks.