FURIOUS bereaved parents last night demanded a public inquiry into the secret disposal of ashes from stillborn and neonatal deaths at a crematorium in Edinburgh.
Last week it was revealed that council-run Mortonhall Crematorium had been disposing of the ashes of new and stillborn babies in cardboard boxes for 45 years.
At a public meeting last night, parents demanded the council drop its own inquiry in favour of a public probe by an external watchdog.
Grieving parents were amongst the 100-strong crowd that gathered at Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart Tennis Centre last night (thu) for the session, organised by support groups Sands.
At the emotionally-fuelled meeting, parents accused the council of telling “blatant lies” for more than four decades, and questioned why they had not been given ashes following their babies’ cremations at Mortonhall.
One devastated parent demanded: “If you’re going to be honest, why don’t you make this an external investigation, so no-one from the council is then responsible for it?
“Ultimately if the police do it all, another force comes in and investigates them. So why are the council doing an internal investigation? Why is it not out in the open?”
Some parents shouted out the birth weights of their children, one father said his baby weighed 9lb when he was told there would be no remains.
Others cried out “paupers’ grave” and “where’s my child?”
One mother said: “My baby was not – well he’s still not, cold in his grave. I’m sat there full of hormones and I’m so angry that with myself for being so stupid.”
Mike Rosendale, the head of schools and community services at Edinburgh City Council, is to lead the investigation.
He said: “I’ve got no intention to hide anything.
“I will make it my business to start as quickly as possible finding out what has been happening. I’ve already started that process”
He said he would take accounts from current and former staff as well as institutions that gave out guidance on these matters. But parents criticised the fact that he had no power to compel people to speak.
City Environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds came under fire for not attending the meeting.
A statement read out on her behalf said: “I personally want to offer my deepest apologies and express my sincere regret to everyone who has been affected.”
One mother, Lindsay Robb, 25, claimed that the practice, which the council ad initially claimed ended last year when new management was brought in, was still active in January of this year.
She said: “I want justice for Jack. I chose to get my son cremated because I didn’t want him alone in the cold, wet, dark ground. I was told I would get the ashes and on the most traumatic day of my life I phoned up to find ‘sorry we couldn’t get his ashes’.
“Where is my son? Jack passed away on the December 16 last year. We chose to get him cremated at Mortonhall,
“We were met by the chaplain and funeral director, and at that point we were asked if we wanted Jack’s ashes or not and I said yes, and they told me to call back up in the afternoon.
“I called them and we were told that Jack was too small and there were no ashes. That was in January.” Her partner, Jack’s father, Michael Stachan, 25, said that they would mark the anniversary with their other young son. “We don’t even know where [Jack] is. We don’t know where we will go.”
Edinburgh Council revealed it had received more than 100 requests for information on Mortonhall and had set up a hotline for affected families
Speaking after the meeting Edinburgh city council leader Andrew Burns said: “I am personally, very, very sorry about the extraordinary practices which have come to light in recent days, but nothing that I or the council does or says can make up for the hurt the families have suffered.
“I can confirm to the council that a full investigation is now under way. That investigation is aiming to report to a council committee in January, and certainly full council on January 31.
Kenny MacAskill, MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, who attended the meeting, said of calls for a public inquiry: “I think that’s premature. We will wait to see what the council come up with. The council are acting very quickly.”
Cllr Burns said provisions were being made to build a memorial at the crematorium.
Dorothy Maitland, Sands operational manager, said: “I feel a memorial is a long way off yet. We need to get to the bottom of this awful catastrophe and to decide, if a memorial is appropriate, and even if Mortonhall is the right place. Some parents have been very angry with Mortonhall and would not want a memorial there.