NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Hazlehead Crematorium report 'must be published'

Hazlehead crematoria
Image caption Aberdeen City Council has kept the critical report secret because it contained the details of the conduct of senior managers

An internal report into "abhorrent practices" at Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen must be published, Scotland's Information Commissioner has ruled.

The ruling comes after BBC Scotland sought a copy of the report under Freedom of Information legislation.

The report was kept secret by Aberdeen City Council because it contained details of senior managers' conduct.

It was commissioned after the revelation that babies were being cremated with unrelated adults.

The ashes of both were being handed to relatives of the adult for scattering.

The report's remit included the role of the director responsible for the crematorium, Pete Leonard, who resigned.

He had been quoted as referring to "slow cooking" babies - comments for which he was heavily criticised.

BBC Scotland understands the conduct of Mr Leonard and his senior team was investigated, but not that of chief executive Angela Scott.

Council criticised

Personal details and the views of the report's author on the conduct of individuals can still be redacted because of the potential influence on any disciplinary actions.

But the local authority has been told it must publish the majority of the report by 1 September.

In a decision notice, the acting Information Commissioner Margaret Keyse is critical of the council which repeatedly changed its reasons for not making the report public.

She said: "The council's actions suggest it was intentionally trying to prevent [BBC Scotland] accessing information it could quite readily provide."

Aberdeen City Council had argued that some of the information contained within the report was already in the public domain but that the same information should be withheld because of the risk of prejudicing future investigations.

Image copyright Stanley Howe
Image caption The council has apologised for what went on at the crematorium

The ruling said the justifications for withholding the report were "wholly inadequate".

It went on to express concern that "disclosure of the information in full... would allow members of the public to draw their own (and possibly incorrect) conclusions regarding an individual's involvement in, or responsibility for, any failings at Hazlehead, in advance of any further investigations being carried out".

Aberdeen City Council further argued the level of intrusion into the private lives of individuals mentioned in the report was "unwarranted".

The commissioner accepted there was a public interest in publication because of the senior posts held by those who were being investigated.

She also dismissed a claim that publishing the report would "cause harm" to the council as "somewhat over-stated".

A spokesperson for the council said: "We have received initial notification from the Scottish Information Commissioner and the full decision will be considered in due course.

"We are committed to complying with the requirements in the timeframe specified by the SIC."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Dame Elish Angiolini's report into the scandal described practices as "abhorrent"

The council's internal inquiry followed an investigation by Dame Elish Angiolini into practices at crematoriums across Scotland.

The former Lord Advocate said the process of cremating bodies together may have been going on from 1967 until a change of management in 2011.

Her 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.

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

The council has since apologised and compensation has been paid to dozens of affected parents.

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