Lord Bonomy report on baby ashes recommends new laws

Mortonhall Crematorium Mortonhall crematorium staff told parents there would be no ashes

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A report into the cremation of babies has recommended new laws and guidelines to protect bereaved families.

The Infant Cremation Commission, chaired by Lord Bonomy, made 64 recommendations, including an urgent review of cremation practices.

They include a statutory definition of ashes and regulation of cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation.

The Scottish government has established a national investigation team to look into all the families allegations.

Public health minister Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament the team would be headed by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini

Independent inspector

He said: "What the commission's report tells us is that there are variable practices across the country and in many cases, in the past, the interests of the baby and the bereaved family have not always been put first.

From Democracy Live: Public Health Minister Michael Matheson announces the new investigation team

"The Infant Cremation Commission has made important recommendations to ensure that never again will any parent have to experience the pain of not knowing what happened to their baby's ashes.

"However, I am acutely aware that, for many parents, questions remain about what happened in the past and that some still want their individual cases looked at."

Patrick McGuire, from Thompsons Solicitors, who represents more than 200 families affected by the baby ashes scandal, said: "This announcement from the minister is very welcome.

"It's what the families that I represent have been asking for. Dame Elish Angiolini did an excellent job investigating malpractice at Mortonhall crematorium and we have no doubt that she will do the same with her recently announced National Investigation Unit.

"The families are particularly pleased that she will look closely at each individual case and as far as possible give every family the answers they are looking for.

"We are also reassured that those people across Scotland who are identified as being responsible for this scandal will now be properly held to account. "

'Further uncertainty'

Lord Bonomy's report also said better records were needed in hospitals, funeral parlours and crematoria.

It recommended a national code of practice for infant and baby cremations and said an independent inspector should be appointed to monitor working practices at crematoria.

ashes memory Some parents face never knowing for sure where the ashes of their baby were laid to rest

The report came after the discovery that the ashes of hundreds of babies were disposed of without their parents' knowledge.

The problem first emerged at Mortonhall in Edinburgh, but there were also cases in Aberdeen, Fife and Glasgow.

Families have been told they may never find out what happened to their babies' remains.

In Aberdeen earlier this month, a "serious allegation" concerning the "joint cremation of babies and adults" was made about Hazlehead Crematorium.

New council chief executive Angela Scott said the findings of an earlier independent audit would now have to be reconsidered.

The council apologised for the "further uncertainty".

Aberdeen City Council announced earlier this year that it had changed its procedures, including using baby trays, so ashes could now be recovered.

Some staff in the past refused to use the trays on health and safety grounds, claiming there was an increased risk of being burned when removing them.

The Institute of Cemetery and Cremation Management, which was represented on the commission, said defining what constituted ashes was fundamental to improving the cremation of babies.

Chief executive Tim Morris said imposing new laws would remove different interpretations that existed across Scotland about the cremation practices appropriate for babies.

Urgent steps

The report stated: "Death always evokes grief. To some, it brings release and, to their families, relief from the distress of observing a loved one in decline and pain.

"For others, the grief and distress of suffering untimely bereavement can seem unbearable. That is particularly so for many who suffer the loss of a longed-for and much-loved baby at, or before, birth or in the early months of life.

"To learn later of uncertainty about the existence and disposal of their babies' ashes has compounded the grief, caused further distress to many, and given rise to mixed emotions in others.

"That highlights the importance of taking steps urgently to ensure that future cremations of babies are handled with sensitivity that has due regard to the duty to lay their remains to rest as and where their families wish."

Dorothy Maitland The scandal was first uncovered by Dorothy Maitland, whose daughter Kaelen was cremated at Edinburgh's Mortonhall 25 years ago

Lord Bonomy was asked to look at cremation practices across the whole country.

More than 250 families are thought to have been affected by the issue at Mortonhall.

Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini reported on the situation there.

She concluded that some parents would never know the final resting place of their babies because the remains had been buried without their knowledge.

Sue Bruce, Edinburgh City Council's chief executive, said: "We welcome Lord Bonomy's report, which makes some very constructive recommendations.

"Our own Mortonhall working group has held several positive meetings and produced an action plan, which will be discussed by the council next week.

"We will continue to work closely with the Scottish government to ensure that our actions are consistent with the recommendations of Lord Bonomy."

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