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  1. ITV Report

Mortonhall parents face 'lifetime of uncertainty' about location of babies' ashes

Ashes were dumped in a so-called "garden of remembrance" at the crematorium. Photo: STV

Many parents will be left with a "lifetime of uncertainty" about their child's final resting place, according to a report into a baby ashes scandal at a city crematorium.

Dame Elish Angiolini, who led an inquiry into previous practices at Edinburgh's Mortonhall crematorium, described the situation as a "great tragedy".

The scandal emerged in December 2012 when it was revealed that the council-run crematorium had buried or scattered the ashes of stillborn and newborn babies for decades without their relatives' knowledge. Families said they were told there would be nothing to scatter.

The practice, which took place at the site between 1967 and 2011, was uncovered by child bereavement charity Sands Lothians.

Dame Elish's report stated:

It cannot be said with any certainty what remains of which babies are interred in the garden of remembrance.

The precise extent to which remains of babies have been mixed in with an adult cremation that followed the baby's cremation is also unknown but appears likely to be extensive.

The great tragedy of these events over many years is that many parents will now be left with a lifetime of uncertainty about their baby's final resting place.

– Dame Elish Angiolini
The report said the supervisor at Mortonhall had "an aversion to change". Credit: David Cheskin/PA Wire

It emerged that parents were led to believe there would be nothing to scatter, while the ashes were dumped in a "mass grave" in a so-called "garden of remembrance" at the crematorium.

The number of cases referred to the probe increased from 130 babies at the start to 253 babies by its conclusion.

The report spoke of an apparent belief at Mortonhall that the bones of foetuses and even stillborn and neonatal babies could not survive the cremation process, despite available information to the contrary.

Staff employed there for many years largely adopted practices and beliefs formed and fixed over several decades.

They worked for many years under the direction and supervision of the same superintendent who also preserved such opinions.

– Dame Elish Angiolini

Edinburgh City Council chief executive Sue Bruce apologised to the bereaved families and said parents would be consulted about the creation of a memorial to the babies they lost.

It is vital that we learn from this and look to the future. We must ensure that the highest possible standards are adhered to at Mortonhall and that nothing like this can happen again.

– Sue Bruce