The baby ashes scandal which broke at Mortonhall crematorium quickly spread to other crematoria in Scotland. Will it develop into a UK-wide scandal? Have other crematoria been failing to recover ashes from infants despite the availability of forty-year-old science showing that a foetus as young as 17 weeks’ gestation will, if cremated gently, yield ash?
At Emstrey crematorium in Shrewsbury, where baby ashes were being successfully recovered 100% of the time as long ago as the 1960s, the technique for cremating babies seems at some stage to have been lost, because since 2004 only 1 set of ashes per 30 were recovered.
Shropshire Council has launched an enquiry and clients of Emstrey crematorium have formed a campaigning group, Action for Ashes. One of its members, Glen Perkins, whose 4-month-old daughter Olivia was cremated at Emstrey, said: “We truly believe there are other cases in England and Wales. We’re not going to go away until things have changed. We’re going to keep fighting for what is right.”
In Glasgow they are making sure that what went on can never happen again. They are applying the definition of ashes proposed by both Dame Elish Angiolini and Lord Bonomy: “all that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process and following the removal of any metal”.
Councillor Frank McAveety, convener of Glasgow council’s Sustainability and the Environment Committee, said: “The council, with immediate effect, began to use Dame Elish Angiolini’s definition from her report into Mortonhall and moved away from the more general definition of the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities. This clarification makes it very likely that we will return any ash to bereaved families where they request it.”
In her report into Mortonhall, Dame Elish wrote:
There was little by way of formal training at Mortonhall other than in general cremation practice. When it came to the cremation of foetuses and babies, staff learned from their more experienced peers or supervisor. Likewise, notions of policy and practice were derived by word of mouth with very little other than operators’ manuals committed to writing.
Here was a sorry state of affairs.
When is somebody going to stand up and say sorry?