Special memorial tree proposed in honour of Mortonhall babies

The 'leaves' on the Saughton tree are inscribed
The 'leaves' on the Saughton tree are inscribed
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A MEMORIAL “tree” to honour babies whose ashes were secretly buried in a mass grave at Mortonhall Crematorium is to be considered under plans to mark the tragic site.

Moulded from copper and other precious metals, the hand-crafted Tree of Tranquility would provide grieving parents with a leaf to record the name and age of their child whose remains are interred in the grounds below.

It has been proposed as a commemorative sculpture by the charity SiMBA, which supports families who have suffered the loss of a baby, though it is expected any decision on mounting a lasting tribute will be taken after inquiries into the scandal have concluded.

Bereavement support group Sands Lothian, which uncovered the malpractice at the council-run crematorium, said it would reserve judgement on a fitting memorial until investigations have ceased. It stressed that any tribute should be agreed by all parties and financed by the council.

A similar tree has already been installed at Saughton Winter Gardens for babies who died at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Hospital and St John’s Hospital, Livingston.

Donna Hanley, treasurer and fundraising consultant at SiMBA, said the seven-foot structure had to be located in a quiet, central area that is not prone to vandalism.

“Every leaf of the tree represents a lost baby,” she said. “The one in Saughton was the first one we put up and started as a sapling with branches but no leaves.

“Then every leaf was soldered on and represents a baby. It’s a beautiful symbol of remembrance that changes colour as it ages and actually resembles a real tree. The tree comes to life with the leaves that are added.

“Many people find comfort from having their baby on the tree because they are alongside other babies and not alone.”

Ms Hanley said it was unknown whether the council would fund the memorial as talks were at an “early stage”.

Dorothy Maitland, Sands operations manager, said parents who had contacted her charity believed the council should foot the bill. She added that city chiefs had said they would consider a lasting tribute.

“It’s one of the first things the council said they would do, but before we start organising memorials we should have public meetings and wait until the inquiry is done and dusted.”

Councillor Lesley Hinds, environment convener, said: “Many ideas have been put forward on the issue of creating some kind of memorial. We will continue our support for those families who have been affected and will consult people in the new year once the fact-finding investigation has been reported to the council.”

Meanwhile, despite claims Mortonhall changed its practice in May 2011 to allow parents to collect their child’s ashes following cremation, parents have told how other agencies such as funeral directors and hospitals had failed to be informed.

Mother Gillian McLaughlin said she had been handed a document by Edinburgh Royal Infirmary staff as recently as August saying it would not be possible to retrieve ashes from her baby if the cremation was carried out at Mortonhall. Mrs McLaughlin’s daughter was stillborn at 38 weeks.

The document is understood to be standard advice given to parents dealing with the emotional shock of losing a child.

A council spokesperson: “All families who have contacted Mortonhall Crematorium since May 2011 have been informed that ashes can be collected, however we are writing to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to ensure they are aware of the current procedures.”