Diplomat’s former wife tells of grief over crematorium ashes scandal


A US diplomat and his former wife are demanding answers from the Scottish Government after they were denied their baby’s ashes at the scandal-hit Mortonhall crematorium.

Donald Holm, the former US Consul General in Scotland, and Madelaine Cave have written to the American Embassy in London asking them to help them find out what happened to the remains of their tragic daughter.

Meghan Heather Holm was cremated at Mortonhall on June 8 1994, after she died aged just 15 days from an undiagnosed heart condition.

Madelaine Cave is demanding answers on what happened to her daughter’s remains


Although Meghan was born in Amsterdam and was a US citizen, the couple decided to have her cremated in Edinburgh and scatter the ashes on the Lammermuir Hills where Donald had proposed.

But they were told by a member of staff at the crematorium that the 8lb baby girl would “vaporise” because of the temperature, and there would be no ashes to scatter.

The couple, now divorced, say she is likely to have been buried in an unmarked grave at the crematorium along with what are believed to be hundreds of other remains.

Mr Holm was involved in repatriating the remains of the American victims of the Lockerbie bombing, and Mrs Cave has spoke of the bitter irony of not knowing what happened to his own daughter’s remains.

Edinburgh council has launched its own investigation into the crematorium, and the Scottish Government is under pressure to open a public inquiry.

Madelaine’s daughter Meghan died in 1994 aged just 15 days


It is believed hundreds of parents were lied to that there would be no remains from the cremation of babies who were stillborn. In fact, remains were put in cardboard boxes and buried in the grounds.

Mrs Cave, who lives in North Berwick in East Lothian, said: “It is ironic that Donald, in his role as Consul General  in Scotland for three years, was involved in the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing and ensured that the remains of 270 US citizens were sent back to their loved ones, yet we now have no idea what happened to the ashes of our daughter.

“We were told by Mortonhall – not by funeral directors – that we would receive no ashes.

“I was so distraught. My mother found me howling on the floor after the phone call.

Meghan’s birth had been traumatic for me, then she had died, and now we were being toldwe would have nothing left of her at all.

“I asked them why – as even then I knew of people who’d had cats cremated and received ashes – and was told that because her bones were very soft and because they’d just had new furnaces put in which were very powerful, she would just be vaporised.

“Both of us were really upset but we ultimately reconciled ourselves to the idea that she was in the ether, for Donald that meant heaven, and that she was as pure and innocent as the day she was born and we would carry her in our hearts.



“We were pleased she was not in the soil and mixed with other remains.

“Yet now we discover that is exactly what is likely to have happened to her.”

Mrs Cave, a 54-year-old folk singer and community radio presenter, continued: “I have been so shocked at this and at my response to it.

“It has opened wounds I thought had healed. I spent four days sobbing.

I had to contact Donald in California to tell him.

“He’s a religious man and I wasn’t sure how he’d react, but he was too distraught.

“Two years ago, when it would have been her 16th birthday, he flew over and placed a posy of flowers in the Lammermuirs where we had wanted to scatter her.

“We didn’t think her remains were anywhere in this world. Now we find out that they might well be, going on what has happened to the ashes of other babies her age.”



Mrs Cave said friends had only told her recently of the ongoing scandal, which has seen families make complaints to the police over alleged breaches of the 1935 Cremation Act.

She continued: “As a parent you do everything to protect your children, but when they die, you have to put your faith in other people and think that they too will do their best.

“For them not to… It’s made me so angry.

“You start asking all sorts of questions, such as did they take her out  of the coffin for the cremation?

“Were her ashes mixed in with the person before, or the one who came after? It’s appalling.”

She said: “Human beings have ways of dealing with grief – and it’s not to abandon their loved ones’ remains.

“If we’d been asked if we wanted ashes we’d have said yes, yes, yes.”

She said she now feels the same way as she did 19 years ago.

Megan died in Amsterdam on 3 June 1994 where her father was stationed, and the US Consul General of the Hague accompanied her body to the airplane to be flown to Scotland.



Mrs Cave continued: “Meghan is a US citizen as am I, so Donald and have written to the US authorities in Scotland and London to ask for their aid in investigating what happened to her by asking the Scottish Government to get involved.”

A spokeswoman for the US Embassy said: “The Embassy can confirm that the family has been in contact with the U.S. Consul General about the Mortonhall Crematorium.

“This is a matter being investigated by local authorities, and we are monitoring the progress of the investigation.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome the Council’s recommendation to ensure a follow on independent investigation into this matter and, to provide additional reassurance to the public, we would encourage the person appointed to include a review of local policy and practice elsewhere in Scotland.

“We will consider if a formal public inquiry is needed following the conclusion of the independent investigation.”