Comment: The issue of accountability is clouded

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The bereaved parents affected by the Mortonhall scandal always feared the inquiry into what went on at the crematorium would leave some of their most pressing questions unanswered. And so it has proved.

Dame Elish Angiolini’s report is admirably thorough and pulls no punches when it comes to highlighting failings within the city council and the NHS. But when it comes to two of the most important questions for many parents there is still no answer, or at least none that comes with any certainty.

The almost complete absence of proper record keeping at the crematorium means that Dame Elish has been unable to answer definitively parents’ questions about what happened to their baby.

That is the great tragedy of Mortonhall. The ongoing pain that will cause is plainly spelled out by the former Lord Advocate when she says that parents “will now be left with a lifetime of uncertainty about their baby’s final resting place”.

The other striking question that remains unanswered is that of who is to blame for things going so badly wrong? There is no point in blame for its own sake, but it is reasonable to look for people to be held to account for their mistakes.

The issue of accountability is clouded by the different versions of events given by different witnesses. In some cases the former management and their staff have given different accounts of events and former crematorium manager George Bell has even questioned the accuracy of what is said in Dame Elish’s report.

The report does make clear that were serious failures in the management of the council-run crematorium, where “inertia” ruled rather than compassion for grief-stricken families. But the extent of that culpability will not be clear without further questioning of the differing accounts.

That is where a public inquiry with wide-ranging powers might possibly help by allowing the cross-examination of witnesses.

But there will always be some doubt about whether even a judicial-style process will reach a definitive conclusion, especially about events that happened several years ago.

A public inquiry would certainly be a further ordeal for many families. Whether or not it would shed enough new light to be worth the pain deserves careful consideration.

Even without a public inquiry, this is highly unlikely to be the end of the line. Parents have the option of suing the council over its failings. If legal action ends in an out-of-court settlement, then it may bring some measure of justice, but it will not bring families any closer to the full truth.