Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Mortonhall baby ashes: Public inquiry 'not ruled out'

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Media captionA former manager of Mortonhall Crematorium says he would welcome a public inquiry into the baby ashes scandal

A public inquiry into the baby ashes scandal has not been ruled out, Scotland's public health minister has told MSPs.

Michael Matheson said the matter would be considered once Lord Bonomy's report into infant cremation practices across Scotland had been published,

The report is expected to be released at the end of the month.

It follows the publication of a separate report into Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

The Mortonhall report, by former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini, found staff at the crematorium had been burying babies' ashes in secret for decades.

The report said the hundreds of parents affected by the scandal had not been told that ashes were left after their babies were cremated because it was believed by staff to have been "too distressing" for them.

Dame Elish described the practice as a "great tragedy" that left some parents facing a "lifetime of uncertainty" over where their babies had been laid to rest.

Similar practices are believed to have been carried out at other crematoria in Scotland.

Several relatives of young babies who were cremated at Mortonhall between 1967 and 2011 have called for a full public inquiry to be carried out.

In a ministerial statement at Holyrood in the wake of Dame Elish's report, Mr Matheson said a decision would not be made until the Infant Cremation Commission led by Lord Bonomy had reported.

'Necessary legislation'

He said: "We must ensure that all affected parents receive the same level of investigation as happened for the 253 families affected at Mortonhall.

"I know some parents have reiterated their call for a public inquiry. I would like to reassure these parents: I hear that call.

"We have never ruled out a public inquiry. We have always said we would reflect on that once we have received the reports from Dame Angiolini and Lord Bonomy. That is what we will do."

Mr Matheson also said the Scottish government would "not hesitate to bring forward the necessary legislation and take the necessary steps once the commission has reported".

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, who said she had been approached for help by bereaved parents in her Glasgow constituency, urged the Scottish government to agree to a public inquiry now.

"It would give confidence to families and respond to the scepticism of families," she said, adding that parents had lost confidence in the system after being misled in the past.

Scottish Conservative MSP Jackson Carlaw backed Ms Lamont's call, citing the "sheer scale" of the events at Mortonhall and the detail of Dame Elish's report.

Party leader Ruth Davidson has also urged the Scottish government to set up a full public inquiry.

Meanwhile, George Bell, a former Mortonhall Crematorium manager, has told BBC Scotland he would welcome a public inquiry.

Mr Bell said: "I have no issue of going and attending a public inquiry. Personally I have nothing to hide. I went to Dame Elish's inquiry to assist the investigation, to hopefully find some answers for these parents."

Mr Bell said government ministers had on at least three occasions since the 1980s been asked to provide guidance on the issue, but had failed to do so.

He added: "If (the requests) had been acted on, then we may not have been sitting here today, and those parents would not have been as they are now, saddened by what has happened."

Earlier, First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs an extra £100,000 would be made available for parents of bereaved children to receive counselling.

He also confirmed that the Lord Advocate had referred Dame Elish's report to police for further investigation into possible criminality.

A working group comprised of representatives from City of Edinburgh Council, the Scottish government, NHS Lothian and campaigners, has been set up to act on the report's recommendations.

Dame Elish's report made a series of recommendations for improving practices at crematoria.

It said it was not known for sure what remains of which babies were interred in an unmarked "garden of remembrance" at Mortonhall due to a "longstanding and wholesale failure" to keep accurate records.

The inquiry also found that baby ashes were cremated in the evening when incinerators were cooler, and any ash found in the morning "would be mixed in with the first adult cremation in the morning".

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