Scotland politics

Baby ashes public inquiry not ruled out, says Salmond

Picture of baby
Image caption Bereaved parents linked to the ashes scandal showed pictures of their babies to MSPs at Holyrood

First Minister Alex Salmond has said he would not rule out a public inquiry into the disposal of baby ashes.

He made the comment in response to a question from Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson at First Minister's Questions.

She spoke about meeting bereaved parents whose babies' bodies were disposed of without their knowledge.

Mr Salmond, who said his mother had had a stillbirth, told Ms Davidson that if two current investigations failed he would consider a fuller inquiry.

Former lord advocate Dame Elish Angiolini is examining the practices behind the disposal of baby ashes at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh.

That came about after it emerged bereaved parents had been denied access to the ashes, which were buried in a garden of remembrance.

It is thought the practice was carried out from the 1960s until 2011.

Dame Angiolini will look at individual cases and her findings will be reported to Edinburgh City Council's transport and environment committee.

The second inquiry, being conducted by Lord Bonomy, will review the Scotland-wide policies, guidance and practice in relation to the handling of ashes following the cremation of babies and infants.

The former High Court judge's Infant Cremation Commission will also make recommendations for improvement to ensure that parents' wishes are adhered to.

However, although Lord Bonomy wants to hear from bereaved parents, local councils and cremation staff, he will not examine individual cases.

In parliament on Wednesday, a group of bereaved parents affected by the ashes scandal, made a plea for a public inquiry to a cross-party gathering of MSPs.

During First Minister's Questions, Ms Davidson said: "What started out as a scandal in a single crematorium in Mortonhall in Edinburgh has spread to crematoria in Glasgow and Aberdeen, and they are the ones that we know about.

"But we have now learned that families who used a facility in Falkirk have been affected as have families using a private, not local authority, crematorium."

She asked: "Does the first minister recognise that neither the Angiolini investigation nor Lord Bonomy's review will give the answers that parents in parliament yesterday need."

In a personal response to the Scottish Tory leader, Mr Salmond said: "Let's just accept that everyone in this parliament has great sympathy and empathy for the parents in these circumstances.

"My mother, and it is common with many families who have experience of this, had a stillborn child.

"If you add to that the extremity of not knowing about the disposal of a child's ashes then every person, every human person, understands how parents feel in that circumstance, or at least has the empathy to try and understand how that parent feels."

He added that what was crucial was how best to proceed in producing the best policy for the future.

Mr Salmond said that Lord Bonomy had indicated that he was confident he could make proper recommendations by the end of the year with the possibility of legislation in early 2014.

The first minister then cautioned: "If it wasn't the case and it couldn't happen, I would not hesitate to take other measures including the consideration of a public inquiry."

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