Ashes of 1,000 babies not returned to their parents

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Media captionLouise Perkins says crematorium bosses have robbed her and husband Glen of the right to lay their daughter Olivia to rest

Crematoria across the UK did not return the ashes of more than 1,000 babies to their parents over the past five years, according to BBC research.

Data released under Freedom of Information laws shows the return of baby ashes was routine in some parts of the country but not in others.

The revelations follow the publication of a report into the scandal at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh.

Babies' ashes were buried or scattered there without the parents' knowledge.

The BBC asked all 265 crematoria in the UK how they dealt with the cremation of still-born and very young babies up to six months old.

'Not recovered'

Of the 140 which replied in full, the figures showed that some crematoria were routinely returning the ashes of babies.

But there were 1,032 cases of ashes not being returned to families between 2008 and 2013.

These included 311 cases where the crematorium said no ashes were recovered.

In the other 721 cases, ashes were recovered from the cremation process but were not returned to parents.

The reasons for the ashes not being returned in this five-year period were not always clear.

The Freedom of Information requests revealed:

  • Bristol City Council, which runs Canford and South Bristol crematoria, did not return ashes of still-born babies until 2012;
  • Hartlepool Borough Council's crematorium at Stranton Grange Cemetery did not routinely return ashes of still-born babies;
  • Plymouth City's Efford and Weston Mill crematoria, North East Surrey Crematorium, and Putney Vale Crematorium in the London borough of Wandsworth did not return ashes for still-births or babies up to six months old;
  • Manchester City Council's Blackley Crematorium returned just one set of ashes in 2012 out of 38 cremations;
  • Harrogate Borough Council's Stonefall Cemetery in North Yorkshire returned ashes in 2008 in only a tenth of cases - four sets of ashes out of 40 cremations;
  • Cheshire East Council, which operates crematoria in Crewe and Macclesfield, did not return ashes to parents in 55 out of 81 cases in a five-year period;
  • Durham Crematorium did not return ashes in 46 out of 50 cases over five years;
  • Hendon in the London Borough of Barnet did not return ashes in 43 out of 54 cases over five years.

Some parents said they want more to be done to improve practices.

Glen and Louise Perkins' daughter Olivia was four and a half months old when she died in December 2007.

She was cremated at Shrewsbury Crematorium in Shropshire and her parents said they were told by the funeral director that there would be no ashes.

They were surprised but did not have the strength at the time to question the process.

'Human right'

Mr Perkins said: "We thought about it all the time.

"We haven't stopped thinking about it for seven years.

"We shouldn't have had to lose her in the first place but when we found out via experts that there are ashes after cremations, we just felt as though we'd lost her again."

Mr Perkins said the family felt they had been robbed of the human right to be able to lay their daughter to rest.

Shropshire Council said it was difficult to comment on operations in 2007 as the crematorium had been run by the former Shrewsbury & Atcham Borough Council at the time.

But in a statement the council said it was "confident that since 2009 the appropriate procedures have been followed in cases involving the sad death of a baby or unborn child."

The council added that it was "confident that the wishes of bereaved parents and families have been, and are, followed at all times."

But it said it would consider the recommendations made by Lord Bonomy into cremations in Scotland "to see if any current practices require updating."

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