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'Abhorrent' practices at Hazlehead crematorium in Aberdeen

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Media captionA report into the operation of crematoria in Scotland finds "unethical and abhorrent practices" at Hazlehead

"Unethical and abhorrent practices", including babies being cremated with unrelated adults, went on in Aberdeen for many years, a report has revealed.

Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish Angiolini has issued the 400-page national cremation investigation.

The report was commissioned by the Scottish government.

BBC Scotland had revealed in 2013 that no ashes had been offered to the families of infants cremated in Aberdeen over a five-year period.

Baby and adult ashes were mixed together and given back to relatives of the adult, while the parents of infants were told there were no ashes.

The report concluded: "The evidence discloses unethical and abhorrent practices at Aberdeen Crematorium over many years, including the cremation of foetuses and babies along with unrelated and unknown adults."

It added: "The parents of many of the families involved in this investigation have been failed by both crematoria and funeral care organisations over many decades."

New law

Lawyers for families involved in the inquiry said the malpractice detailed in report would fill people with "revulsion".

Aberdeen City Council has apologised.

The crematorium at Hazlehead in Aberdeen was among those investigated after it emerged staff at the Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh had been burying baby ashes in secret for decades.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dame Elish Angiolini issued the report

Parents were told there were no ashes left when young babies were cremated.

The practice at the crematorium is thought to have been in place from its opening in 1967 until a change of management in 2011.

The report recommends a new law prohibiting the mixing of baby ashes with those of another person.

The investigation looked at 14 crematoria and more than 200 cases across Scotland.

The report said there was no overall strategic management of the crematorium by Aberdeen City Council, and that the focus among officials was on budget rather than policy.

'Anguish and hurt'

It said an Infant Cremation Commission led by Lord Bonomy was misled about practices taking place there.

Nicola Merchant, whose son Liam was cremated after he died shortly after being born in 2002, was one of those who did not receive any ashes.

She told BBC Scotland of her feelings towards the council: "They are just a disgrace.

"They do not realise how much hurt they have caused. It's awful."

Aberdeen City Council chief executive Angela Scott said new training practices were in place and the council would look into what else could be done.

Image caption Angela Scott said public confidence had to be restored

She said: "It cannot be overestimated how much anguish and hurt parents have experienced due to past practices at Aberdeen Crematorium.

"On behalf of Aberdeen City Council I apologise unreservedly to those parents who did not receive their baby's ashes, and to the relatives affected by the practice, ended in 2012, of placing baby coffins in the cremator alongside adult coffins.

"The loss of a baby is devastating for parents and their families and we are deeply sorry for the extra distress our past actions have caused."

She added: "It is important that I restore the public's confidence and trust in the crematorium."

'Frankly appalling'

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: "No parent should ever have to go through the pain of not knowing what happened to their child's ashes.

"But, sadly, this has not been the case for far too many parents in Scotland.

"Some of the historic practices uncovered in this report are unacceptable and, frankly, appalling.

"It is awful that parents who have lost their child in such sad circumstances have had their grief compounded by the actions of those they trusted to support them.

"While I understand it may be little comfort for those who have been affected in the past, much has changed in Scotland since these issues first came to light."

'Difficult to believe'

She added: "I want to thank Dame Elish and echo her words in the report that pay tribute to the great courage and dignity that those parents involved have shown through their participation."

Patrick McGuire, of Thompsons Solicitors, said: "Dame Elish has produced an in depth and authoritative report into terrible practices at crematoria throughout Scotland.

"What she has uncovered about the Hazlehead crematorium in Aberdeen will fill any right thinking person with revulsion.

"I find it difficult to believe that the horror of what was going on at Hazlehead was unknown to council officials."

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