Dumfries and Galloway child grave probe issues findings

St Michael's Cemetery - Image by Chris Newman The report found there was evidence human remains and urns with ashes had been moved

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Dumfries and Galloway Council has been advised to make a string of improvements to its burials service after hearing claims children's remains had been moved unlawfully for years.

A BBC Scotland investigation earlier this year raised the issue and prompted a police inquiry.

It concluded there had been "procedural errors" in moving remains but that there was no criminal case to answer.

An independent reporter has now produced a list of eight improvements.

In February, grave diggers in the region told BBC Scotland disinterments had been taking place without the necessary licence.

Historically baby or child coffins have been buried in shallow graves, which then have to be deepened to accommodate the burial of another family member.

That involved the exhumation of the child's remains - a process which should be carried out under licence from a Sheriff Court.

One worker, who did not want to be named, said that over the years, remains had been routinely removed without the legal paperwork.

The allegations prompted council chief executive Gavin Stevenson to launch an investigation.

However, before it began, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary was asked to examine the situation.

'Consistent approach'

It found there had been procedural errors in temporarily moving remains but these had been down to "poor practice" rather than "criminal in nature and intent".

The independent investigation then reviewed all files relating to the burials and interviews were conducted with managers, supervisors and grave diggers.

It concluded that there was evidence that human remains and urns containing ashes had been moved during the reopening of lairs but it had not been done with "criminal intent or malice".

The investigation produced a string of recommendations to "ensure public confidence in the burial service".

They are:

  • a burial service operations handbook to be used to provide a "consistent approach across the region"
  • regular staff briefings on legal obligations
  • full knowledge of a new fast-track procedure for obtaining warrants for exhumation to be put in place
  • shrouds to be made more widely available to protect human remains
  • continued membership of bereavement and cemetery management groups
  • the full introduction of an electronic management system for burial information
  • consider further the depth and location of children's burials
  • roll out a training scheme and briefing to all burial service staff

The report concluded the council was to be commended for its "open and transparent" approach to the issue.

It also praised its commitment to do "everything possible" to restore public confidence in the service.

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