VICTIMS of the Mortonhall ashes scandal have called for an investigation to find out if babies were subjected to mass cremations.
Last year it emerged that Mortonhall Crematorium – run by Edinburgh City Council – had buried the ashes of babies in their grounds after telling bereaved families no ashes were recovered.
Council bosses insisted there was “no evidence” of mass cremations but said the inquiries of independent investigator Dame Elish Angiolini – former Solicitor General of Scotland – would be wide-ranging.
But the Mortonhall Ashes Action Committee (MAAC) said the lack of information suggests more than one body may have been cremated at a single time.
MAAC member Sarah Velzian – whose daughter Mia was stillborn three years – said parents at Mortonhall were told babies’ coffins were too small to go through the regular process.
Ms Velzian, who had her daughter’s ashes recovered at the separate Warriston Crematorium, said: “Warriston conducts a baby’s service as it would an adult’s – the coffin moves through the curtain to the burner – but at Mortonhall this didn’t happen.
“What Mortonhall parents are telling us is that their babies’ coffins were placed on a table.
“They have no idea what happened to them after the service because the coffin was still on the table when they left the chapel.
“They have had to take someone’s word that a cremation happened in the same way they did when told that ashes weren’t possible.
“It leads us to believe that there have been mass cremations because it would be cheaper for the crematorium and because they had already told people they wouldn’t get ashes.
“It might be speculation but it’s a question that needs answered and investigated by Dame Elish.”
Bereavement charity Sands Lothian – who first exposed the scandal last year – said it was “appalling” to think that babies were not given individual and intimate services.
Dorothy Maitland, operations manager of Sands, said: “I have heard before some suggestion of stillborn babies being cremated together but it seemed too appalling to give it credence – until now.
“These are the questions we hope the council’s inquiry will answer.
She said so many parents were affected because cremations of stillborn babies were automatically booked at Mortonhall by hospitals – a claim NHS Lothian today denied.
NHS Lothian were understood to have automatically booked services at Mortonhall for distraught parents apologised in case the advice they gave parents was “not correct”.
Maria Wilson, chief midwife, said: “Our dedicated team of midwives do their best to support parents at this difficult time.
“Staff have been upset and concerned by the news that the information they have been providing to parents and families about the availability of ashes has not been correct and our thoughts are with the families affected by this.
“We have a historical relationship with Mortonhall Crematorium and provided the information from the crematorium in good faith.
“Where a family has expressed wishes to use an alternative crematorium or indicated that they would like to receive the cremated remains of their baby our staff have worked with the funeral directors to arrange this.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Lothian added: “Our instruction and understanding is that cremations are carried out on an individual basis.
“NHS Lothian would be shocked if this claim that babies are being cremated together is true.”
Edinburgh City Council environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “Parents’ fears about what might have happened are understandable, but we do not have any evidence this practice happened.
“However anything historical will be looked at as part of Dame Elish’s inquiry and she’s given an assurance she will speak to as many people as possible who want to give their experience.”