Baby ashes scandal: Commission to review cremations

An independent commission is being set up to review the handling of cremated remains following the baby ashes scandal.

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament the group would report back on policies and practices before the end of the year.

The commission has been tasked with ensuring consistency across Scotland.

It comes after it emerged infant ashes had been scattered in Edinburgh without the knowledge of their parents.

BBC Scotland investigations have also revealed concerns about crematoriums in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Mr Matheson said an independent panel would be established to ensure clear and consistent advice is provided to bereaved families on the arrangements for the ashes of their loved ones.

Secret disposals

He added: "Losing a child is an extremely traumatic experience and it is absolutely crucial that families are treated sensitively and given the support and information they need.

"Recent cases have demonstrated that the existing legislation and current industry practice is falling short of what the public deserves, so I am establishing a commission to look at the policies and practices in place for handling ashes and cremated remains.

"Their work and recommendations will inform new legislation which will ensure that these sort of incidents can never happen again."

Public anger first surfaced in Edinburgh where Mortonhall - a council run crematorium - routinely told grieving parents there would be nothing to scatter after cremations, but ashes were then buried in a garden of remembrance.

Dame Elish Angiolini has been tasked with investigating practices at Mortonhall.

It has since emerged that bereaved families in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Fife were also told the ashes of babies could not be provided after cremation.

A BBC Scotland investigation revealed that Aberdeen City Council did not return ashes for babies up to 18 months old.

BBC Scotland also uncovered evidence implicating Glasgow City Council in scandal after it emerged that at least two babies' ashes were disposed of secretly in the city.

Scottish Labour and Glasgow City Council had called for an inquiry.

The commission will not investigate individual cases, which is the responsibility of cremation authorities such as councils or private owners.

It will examine the policies, guidance and legislation which underpin practice across the 27 crematoria in Scotland.

Councils, funeral businesses and representatives of parents affected by historical practice will be represented on the commission.

Image caption Cases of ashes being disposed of without parents knowing also emerged in Glasgow and Aberdeen

Glasgow City Council welcomed the setting up of the independent commission but said it was "disappointed" the panel would not consider individual cases.

A spokesman added: "If it can bring consistency and clarity to the practice of cremation across the country it should ensure that the events we have experienced recently will not be repeated.

"However, it is disappointing that the commission will not consider individual cases where parents feel that the information they were given was different from what actually happened.

"Any investigation of individual cases will need to consider the actions of the crematorium staff, the funeral director and NHS staff.

He added: "It is not clear that local authorities are able to carry out such an investigation and get the answers parents want.

"It is important that cases which have recently been reported are properly investigated and we will carefully consider the remit of the commission before we decide how to take this forward."

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