Baby ashes scandal: responses to Bonomy

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The Bonomy report lays bare the reasons why some crematoria have been able and willing to recover ashes from infant cremations and others haven’t. Given the enduring and agonising distress and uncertainty this has caused to an uncountable number of parents, it can only be a matter of time before the media give it the treatment it deserves. The BBC has already been extremely active in Scotland and at Emstrey crematorium, Shrewsbury.

The inconsistencies of practice highlighted by Bonomy are of the gravest possible concern. Some crematoria have recovered ashes in 100% of cases, others in none: 0%. The science shows that a foetus as young as 17 weeks’ gestation will, if cremated gently, yield ash. This being so, and given the extreme sensitivity of the matter to the parents of babies who have died:

Why on earth has best practice not been applied in all crematoria in the UK?

How is it that some crematorium managers and technicians seem to have lost all sense of duty to the bereaved?

Bonomy’s recommendations are comprehensive. If applied, they will make the future a better place. If you haven’t read them, you really ought to because no one escapes criticism; everyone has something important to learn. Here are some of the most important. The bold is mine.

In legislating, devising policy, drafting information and guidance documents, and making arrangements for and conducting baby cremations, the baby and the interests of the family should be the central focus of attention. Parents and families should be given time and space to reach the correct decision for them.

“Ashes” should be defined as “all that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process and following the removal of any metal”.

All Cremation Authorities at whose crematoria ashes are not always recovered should liaise with a crematorium or crematoria where ashes are recovered more regularly to share their experiences and information about their respective practices. 

As an urgent interim measure, the ICCM and the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (FBCA) should form a joint working group … to consider the various practices and techniques currently employed in baby and infant cremation in full-scale cremators with a view to identifying those practices which best promote the prospect of recovery of ashes inclusive of baby remains and compiling guidance for cremator operators. 

The ICCM and FBCA should review their respective technical training programmes.

The power of the ICCM and the FBCA to put things right is limited. No one has to join either body. Perhaps in consideration of this, Bonomy (explosively) proposes “an independent Inspector to monitor working practices and standards at crematoria, provide feedback to Cremation Authorities on how they are performing and to report to the Scottish Ministers as required.” A national inspectorate. It makes you wonder why we don’t already have one. That would really shake things up. 

Bonomy concludes with a recommendation whose humanity shames all those who have been complicit in the shoddiness that has caused so much grief and will cause much more as the full story comes out. He asks the Scottish government to “consider whether there should be a national memorial dedicated to the babies whose ashes were mishandled or mismanaged.”

Here at the GFG we have sought responses from people of influence in the industry. We have asked the ICCM and the FBCA to respond to the following questions:

1.  I am not aware of any published figures regarding success rates for the recovery of ashes resulting from the cremation of ‘babies and infants’ (Bonomy) by crematoria in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Have the figures been collated?

2.  If not, we are aware that in Scotland, until very recently ashes had not been recovered and returned in any of Aberdeen’s baby cremations since 2008, while in Inverness 100% were returned. In Fife, ashes were recovered in 45 out of 87 cremations of stillborn babies and those aged up to one year. Would you expect to see, or are you aware of, similar disparities in baby ash recovery rates between crematoria in the rest of the UK?

3.  Bonomy recommends that the “ICCM and FBCA should review their respective technical training programmes”. Has [your organisation] fallen short in its training provision to operators of crematorium equipment and subsequent sharing of best practice?

Tomorrow we shall publish an account by Ken West. On Wednesday we shall publish a response by Tim Morris, chief exec of the ICCM. We shall follow that with a response from the FBCA if we get one.


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