ANGRY families have demanded an independent investigation into the Mortonhall Crematorium ashes scandal after city council officials came under fire at an emotionally-charged public meeting.
Passionate calls for the council to drop its own inquiry in favour of a probe run by an external watchdog were greeted with loud applause by the 100-strong crowd who gathered at Craiglockhart Tennis Centre last night for the session organised by charity Sands Lothian.
Grieving parents accused the council of telling “blatant lies” for more than four decades, questioning why they had not been given ashes following their babies’ cremations at Mortonhall.
The scandal first broke in the Evening News when Sands bosses revealed crematorium staff had failed to tell parents their children’s remains were being buried in cardboard boxes at the Howdenhall Road facility.
One aggrieved parent told council officials: “If you’re going to be honest, why don’t you make this an external investigation, so no-one from the council is then responsible for it?
“Ultimately if the police do it all, another force comes in and investigates them. So why are the council doing an internal investigation? Why is it not out in the open?”
Fellow parents questioned council head of community safety Susan Mooney and environmental health services manager Dr Andrew Mackie over whether financial restraints facing the local authority would prevent the truth from coming out.
City environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds came under criticism for not attending the meeting, despite asking for a written apology to be read out at the outset.
The council announced last Friday that it intended to report on findings from its own investigation into the practices at Mortonhall by next month.
Mike Rosendale, the man charged with leading the probe, was forced last night to stand up and publicly defend the inquiry’s independence.
The council’s head of schools and community services said: “I’ve got no intention of hiding anything. I’ll make it my business as quickly as possible to establish the facts of what happened here. I’ve already started that process.”
Mr Rosendale stressed he was talking to both existing and past staff members at Mortonhall. He said he would be checking whether the council-run facility had met standards demanded of crematoria across Britain.
Questioned over his own credentials, Mr Rosendale said: “I’ve never obviously carried out an investigation in this service area because I have no previous connections with it. But I’ve got lots of experience in trying to establish the facts in quite confusing situations.”
Ms Mooney similarly justified the internal investigation by saying there was a need to get answers as quickly as possible.
She said: “We don’t want this to be something that’s drawn out. That’s why we’re moving very quickly.”
Dr Mackie added: “Carrying out an internal inquiry does not rule out any further inquiry should either questions not be answered, or should that inquiry establish that there are further concerns that need to be investigated.
“I don’t think it’s a case of saying it’s one or the other.”
The assertions did little to calm the gathering, with Currie resident Lindsay Robb summing up the mood by saying: “Do you think any one of us in here is going to listen to what that man in the front [Rosendale] has got to say?
“He works for the council. He is going to be biased. Honestly, I am not going to keep my mouth shut until we have justice for every one of these babies.”
Penicuik mother Kim King then suggested it was time for aggrieved parents to start taking legal action.
The meeting took place hours after city leader Andrew Burns revealed the council had received more than 100 separate requests for information on Mortonhall.
The flood of enquiries has been recorded in the space of just nine days since a dedicated hotline was set up for affected families.
Speaking to full council at the City Chambers yesterday, Cllr Burns said: “I am personally very, very sorry about the extraordinary practices which have come to light in recent days, but nothing that I or the council does or says can make up for the hurt the families have suffered.
“As Cllr Hinds made clear last week, we are now determined to do everything in our power to find out just how this happened.
“I can confirm to the council that a full investigation is now under way. That investigation is aiming to report to a council committee in January and certainly full council on January 31.
“I can also confirm to the council that to date we’ve had just over 100 requests for specific information [from parents] and letters of reply are prepared and will be sent out.”
Charity SiMBA, which supports families who have lost a baby, has proposed creating a memorial tree made from copper and other precious metals.
Parents would be each given a leaf to record the name and age of their child, with the remains to be interred in grounds below the sculpture.
Cllr Burns said: “Consideration, as many members of the chamber know, is also being given to provision for a memorial at the crematorium and discussions are ongoing.”
Cllr Hinds had previously said any decision to build a memorial at Mortonhall would hinge on the wishes of parents.
Sands Lothian operations manager Dorothy Maitland said: “I feel a memorial is a long way away yet. We need to get to the bottom of this awful catastrophe and to decide if a memorial is appropriate, and even if Mortonhall is the right place. Some parents are very angry with Mortonhall and would not want a memorial there.”
Dr Mackie said the council had started writing to parents who had phoned in for information, with the hope of replying to a majority of cases by next week.
He said: “There was more of a delay than we were anticipating because we had a large number of inquiries and we had to search through different types of records in order to be confident we had the right information for that particular parent.”
‘I THINK IT WAS A HUGE COVER-UP’
A MUM whose son was cremated at Mortonhall exactly six years ago yesterday has told of the pain the ashes scandal has caused her.
Kim King, from Penicuik, was told there would be no ashes when her first child, Michael, died a week before she was due to give birth.
The 42-year-old said: “He was six-and-a-half pounds. We were told at the time there wasn’t going to be any ashes. We asked the hospital staff, we asked Sands, we asked on the day of the cremation and each time they said: ‘There’s not enough ashes.’
“I think it was a huge cover-up. I just want to know where my baby is. I wanted him home on the first day that I gave birth to him and I couldn’t.
“They’ve deprived me of his ashes and I’ve not been able to celebrate birthdays or Christmas or anything with him because I haven’t had him at home.”