Kirkcaldy crematorium mix-up: Family scattered wrong ashes as mum's remains left on shelf for 16 months

A grieving family who scattered ashes after their mum’s funeral 16 months ago have been shocked to learn that her remains have been sitting on a shelf the whole time.

Mary Newlands thought she had said goodbye to her mum, Eileen McClean, when they scattered ashes given to them by Kirkcaldy Crematorium in December 2020, but now they have no idea whose remains they laid to rest.

Mary had been told no one is unaccounted for with regards to the mystery ashes, prompting fears that she may have scattered the contents of a vacuum bag or the remains of a mystery pauper’s funeral.

Eileen McClean passed away due to a pulmonary embolism, aged 54 on November 23, 2020, with a service at Kirkcaldy Crematorium on December 3.

Eileen McLean, inset, and her children, from left George, Susan, Mary, David, and Eileen's sister Mary.

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Mary said: “We thought we’d scattered her ashes on December 11 at the crematorium, next to my gran and grandad. She always said she’d she’d want to go with them.

“The crematorium said no one is missing.

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"Basically someone’s emptied their hoover and we’ve scattered it, either that or it’s been a pauper’s funeral and they haven’t done the paperwork properly.

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Eileen McClean.

"The ashes took forever to disappear, you could still see them in February. They wouldn’t go away Now we know why. My gran and grandad didn’t want to accept the ashes because they didn’t know who it was."

The news came to light last week when Mary got a call from crematorium staff saying that the family had been given the wrong remains.

She said it reopened the wounds knowing they would have to repeat the scattering again.

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She said: “I’m heartbroken. I feel numb. We’ve scattered someone where my mum should have been.

"I feel for the family of this mystery person that we’ve scattered.

“We have to relive all of this. She’s got six grandkids, and they’re going to have to go through it again.

"One of the younger ones helped to scatter the ashes. The other day she got confused and emotional – she started crying when we said we’d have to say goodbye again as she thought we’d already done it.

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"There are still so many unanswered questions. She was only 54. She didn’t deserve to be left on the shelf for a year and a half.”

Liz Murphy, bereavement services manager at Kirkcaldy Crematorium, said: "We are extremely sorry this has happened, and we've apologised directly to the family for the distress this has caused.

"We have very rigorous control processes in place. We’ve carried out a thorough audit and we can account for all the ashes in our care. We have also asked for independent verification which has confirmed the outcome of our review.

"Our investigations involving all partners in the cremation process are continuing and we will keep the family informed of the results.”

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Funeral Director Ian Johnston said: “I'm absolutely devastated for the family. It was 16 months they were under the illusion that they dispersed the ashes only to then find out that it wasn't their mother. It's just awful. I can't express in words what they're going through.

"We do pride ourselves on the care and compassion that we give to the famillies, and the aftercare. Clearly something has happened here and we're hopeful that the investigation will bring that to light."a