In the light of the Report of the Infant Cremation Commission by Lord Bonomy, 17 June 2014, I invited Ken West, a former manager of Emstrey crematorium, to give his interpretation of the training and practices which had led to the events which the Report investigated. At the same time (28 June 2014) I sent identical emails to Tim Morris of the ICCM and Rick Powell of the FBCA inviting their response. Here is what I wrote to Mr Powell:
Dear Mr Powell,
The Good Funeral Guide represents the interests of funeral consumers, and it is for that reason that I am writing to ask you 4 questions about the recommendations of the Bonomy Report. If you can find the time to respond I would be very grateful to you. My intention, in addition to informing the Good Funeral Guide, is to publish a balanced and informed consideration of Bonomy on the Good Funeral Guide blog.
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?
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?
Bonomy recommends that the “ICCM and FBCA should review their respective technical training programmes”.
- Has the FBCA fallen short in its training provision to operators of crematorium equipment and subsequent sharing of best practice?
- Has the FBCA formulated and published a response to Bonomy? If so, may I have a copy?
The Mortonhall scandal has created anxiety throughout Scotland. In the rest of the UK, practices at Emstrey alone have been questioned as I understand. But it would seem reasonable to infer from the Scottish situation that the problem is nationwide, and that is why I ask my questions.
On 29 June I received this auto-response from Mr Powell:
Thank you for your email.
I am out of the office at the moment and will not return until 2nd July. During this time emails will not regularly be monitored. If you need to contact the Federation urgently then please email@example.com or telephone 020 8669 4521.
On 7 July I wrote again to Mr Powell:
We have discussed the Mortonhall business at some length and in some depth on the Good Funeral Guide blog. In particular, you may be interested in what Ken West wrote on 2 July and what Tim Morris wrote on 3 July. I would give you the links, but I don’t want this to go into your spam folder.
I am extremely concerned to present a balanced picture and to give a voice to all concerned. The FBCA has come in for a fair amount of criticism, and Ken this morning wrote: “I took great care not to name names so as to leave each of those people the option of agreeing, or disagreeing, with what I say. Their silence speaks volumes and with no other reflections, the history appears to be mine alone.”
If you would like to respond to the questions I sent you, or if you would like to write at your own discretion, I would be pleased to publish what you say. The Good Funeral Guide blog has a wide readership in the funeral community, including some of your own members. For the record, it would be good to have all sides represented.
On 7 July Mr Powell wrote to me:
I was in Scotland working with cremation Authorities there for most of last week and currently at our national conference in Stratford-upon-Avon. The results of the Mortonhall issue and the Commission Report will be discussed at conference and I will of course be happy to respond on my return to the office towards the end of the week.
No response was forthcoming until on 8 September 2014 we received a letter from Moseley’s solicitors of Lichfield, Staffordshire. It read:
We have been instructed to act on behalf of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities. Our clients have passed us a copy of the blog by Ken West which you have allowed to be posted.
Our clients state that the allegations within Mr West’s blog are unwarranted and not supported by any proof and should be removed forthwith. Further, our clients state that they require a formal apology to be placed in the Good Funeral Guide.
We have diarised the matter for a period of 7 days to allow the publication to be removed and for the apology to be published ie: before the close of business on 15 September 2014. Should no steps be taken within that period we will take our client’s further instructions with regards to the issue of appropriate legal proceedings to include a claim for legal costs.
We do hope that step will be unnecessary and matters can be dealt with sensibly at this early stage.
Following identification of the allegations contained in Mr West’s blog post our response is as follows:
The FBCA: an apology
We were informed on 8 September 2014 that the veracity of certain assertions made by Ken West in a blog post published on 2 July 2014 is disputed by the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (FBCA). These assertions comprise: an accusation that the FBCA is incompetent and abandoned the manager of Mortonhall crematorium; an invidious comparison between the FBCA and the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (ICCM); an allegation that the FBCA is not skilled in stillbirth and foetal burial; an allegation that pressure was placed on Scottish members to resist change; an allegation that Mortonhall and Aberdeen crematoria stopped recovering infant ashes in the 1990s as a result of FBCA advice; an allegation that the FBCA’s principal interest is in promoting cremation; an allegation that the FBCA colludes with funeral undertakers to favour cremation above innovative methods of the disposal of human remains; an allegation that in any consultative process concerning the improvement of the environmental performance of cremators the FBCA is not a disinterested party; and an allegation that it will be difficult for the ICCM and the FBCA to work collaboratively in the future. Further, the FBCA disputes an editorial footnote asserting that members of the public are denied access to the FBCA Code of Cremation Practice. We deeply regret that anything published on the Good Funeral Guide blog should have fallen short of the highest standards of accuracy to which we are fully committed and we apologise to the FBCA for having impugned its integrity and its commitment to the sharing of best practice concerning the cremation of infant, stillborn and non-viable foetus remains and to the editorial assertion that the Code of Cremation Practice cannot be downloaded from the website. A corrected version of Ken West’s blog post has now been posted in place of the original together with a copy of this apology.