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A great tragedy says ‘baby ashes' report

“A great tragedy” and “longstanding and wholesale failure”, leaving some parents facing “a lifetime of uncertainty" – these were some of the sad findings in a report on the Mortonhall Crematorium scandal, released at the end of April.

The report from former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini comes after an 11-month long investigation into practices believed to have been in place at Mortonhall from its opening in 1967 until a change of management in 2011.

It revealed that staff at the Edinburgh crematorium buried baby ashes in secret for decades. Parents of more than 250 dead babies were told there were no ashes left when young babies were cremated because managers at the time believed it would have been "too distressing".

The inquiry found staff had asked the council for a baby cremator to be installed but were told this was not financially viable. Baby ashes were cremated in the evening when incinerators were cooler, and any ash found in the morning "would be mixed in with the first adult cremation in the morning”.

A failure to keep accurate records meant it was not known for sure what remains of which babies were interred in an unmarked garden of remembrance. 

The 600-page plus report said: "The great tragedy of these events over many years is that many parents will now be left with a lifetime of uncertainty about their baby's final resting place." It blamed "an absence of meaningful supervision or leadership from senior management” .

The report said that, despite "overwhelming evidence" that bones from foetuses as young as 17 weeks do survive cremation, the belief continued at Mortonhall that the bones of foetuses and even stillborn and neonatal babies could not survive the cremation process.

The report, which was compiled for the City of Edinburgh Council, contains 22 recommendations, which will now be taken forward by the council and other relevant agencies. These include that The Scottish government should commission research to identify best practice in "achieving remains in the cremation of foetuses, stillborn babies and neonatal babies". This research should also examine the most effective equipment.

Sue Bruce, chief executive of the City of Edinburgh Council, apologised to the bereaved family for the distress caused and said the council would now consult them regarding their views on a suitable memorial.

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