Edinburgh mum Lydia Reid finally lays baby son Gary to rest 48 years after his death
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An elderly Edinburgh mum has spoken of her relief after she was finally able to lay her baby son to rest following a 50 year battle with authorities to get his remains back.
Lydia Reid, who is terminally ill with bowel cancer, lost her son Gary in 1975 when he was just a week old. But when she asked to see him a few days after he died, she was shown a different child. A funeral was held at the time but experts later concluded that the coffin was empty – and that Gary’s organs had been removed for tests without Mrs Reid’s permission.
After decades of heartache, Mrs Reid, from Clermiston, finally got her son’s remains back earlier this month and laid him to rest at Saughton Cemetery on Saturday. Mrs Reid told the Evening News: "The hurt has been terrible. Now I can bury him before I die, I do feel relief.
"My feelings are so hard to explain. I have fought for so long fearing I would fail all my boys, particularly Gary. I couldn’t believe I had achieved this. At last he had his mass and would be buried. Not the full burial we wanted but at least a burial. All these lovely people that moved so much to make it possible. The people at Saughton cemetery were amazing right down to putting petals around his grave. Now Gary is at peace.”
My heart felt it had been ‘ripped out’
Over the years, Mrs Reid learned the horrifying truth about her son – that parts of Gary’s body had been taken for testing without her permission, with some having been stored in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. To this day Mrs Reid still doesn't know what happened to the rest of his body and, despite feeling relieved that she has now buried her son, the 74-year-old she said she will never give up the search for answers.
She said: "Every morning for all this time I've woken up and felt like my heart was ripped out of my body and forgotten to be put back. His wee body could be anywhere." The mum-of-three has led a campaign in Scotland to expose how hospitals unlawfully retained dead children's body parts for research. She went on hunger strike and camped outside the Crown Office in 2022.
It wasn't until she got help of Labour MSP Foysol Choudhury that she got her son’s remains back. But Mrs Reid, who is in an Edinburgh hospital with bowel cancer, was disgusted when NHS officials brought Gary’s remains to her in a plastic bag.
She said: "I was shocked. That is the only part of my son I have. I was absolutely horrified.” Officials took the remains back and they were sent to the undertaker. NHS chiefs issued a public apology for any distress caused and claimed that remains were inside a wooden casket then placed in a plastic bag ‘to avoid drawing attention as they walked through the hospital’.
Search for the truth
Mrs Reid’s search for answers has spanned years, with a court order having been granted in 2017, which allowed exhumation to be carried out. Experts said the coffin had been buried without containing any human remains. But the Crown Office said an investigation had concluded that Gary had been buried at the time of his death and that the findings at the time the grave had been exhumed were ‘limited in scope’.
The NHS in Scotland admitted unlawfully keeping organs after an investigation into organ retention at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. Around 6,000 organs and tissues were kept by Scottish hospitals between 1970 and 2000, many from children.
But the Crown Office, which conducted an investigation into Gary’s death and burial, still maintains that there is no evidence of criminality or unlawful organ retention. Gary had been born with Rhesus disease, a condition where antibodies in a pregnant woman's blood destroy her baby's blood cells. Her third son, Steven, was also born with the condition. She lost another son, Bruce, to cancer in 2006. Mrs Reid said Steven will carry on her campaign for justice.
Families ‘held to ransom’
Foysol Choudhury MSP said: "When something as tragic as the death of a baby happens, as happened to Gary when he was just days old in 1975, Scotland should be ensuring that families are given the compassion and care that they deserve. Instead, Lydia has been left battling for over 40 years to get answers to her questions and, recently, to get Gary's remains back from the Crown Office and NHS so that he can finally be laid to rest.
"Lydia was thankfully given a concession in her case and the Crown Office agreed to transfer Gary's items back to Lydia, whilst still leaving the option of a Victim's Right to Review open to her. However, like Lydia, I am concerned that other families are being put in the same predicament and feel like they are being held to ransom.
"Questions need to be answered for Lydia: why has Lydia been battling for 48 years on this issue, why have the Crown Office and Police Scotland not provided greater support for Lydia and why did it get to the point where I as an MSP had to get involved? I will be asking the First Minister some pressing questions about Lydia's case and other affected families."
Lindsey Miller, deputy crown agent at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “The investigation by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) into the birth, death and burial of Gary Paton has now concluded.
“COPFS hope that the completion of the investigation provides comfort and reassurance to Ms Reid and to the family of Gary Paton who suffered a devasting loss and our thoughts remain with them. This has been an extensive and thorough multi-agency investigation which included independent scientific reviews and examinations from a wide range of specialities.
"All independent experts were consistent in concluding evidence indicated that Gary was buried, and that there was no criminality or evidence of unlawful organ retention identified. COPFS was responsible for undertaking the investigation to establish the facts of this matter and provide Ms Lydia Reid with answers sought. The Lord Advocate has offered to meet Ms Reid in person to answer any questions that she may have and discuss the conclusion of this investigation.”