The grieving families of children affected by Scotland’s baby ashes scandal have called for a public inquiry to find out who was responsible for the secret disposal of the remains of hundreds of infants.
Speaking as the Government announced the creation of a new national investigations team to help locate the missing ashes in the wake of the publication of a judge-led commission which called for an urgent review of working practices at crematoria, lawyers for the families said they still did not know what had happened to their loved ones – many of whom died after being born premature.
The independent Infant Cremation Commission was established in the wake of revelations that the ashes of babies had been disposed of at Edinburgh's Mortonhall Crematorium without the knowledge of their parents since the 1960s.
Similar cases have also emerged across Scotland including at Glasgow and Aberdeen where it is alleged children were cremated alongside adults.
Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors, who represents more than 200 families praised the author of today’s report, High Court Judge Lord Bonomy, who he said had handled the issue with sensitivity and diligence.
“However the parameters that Lord Bonomy had to work within means that no-one will be properly held to account for the awful breach of regulations that has been commonplace in many Scottish crematoria for decades. For years grieving parents were lied to and many will never know what happened to their babies' remains,” he said.
“So, while we welcome these recommendations for the future conduct of crematoria staff, both the families and myself want a proper public inquiry so that those responsible for years of malpractice can be held to account publicly," he added.
The commission produced 64 recommendations. Among them was the need for a statutory definition of "ashes" and regulation of the cremation of babies of less than 24 weeks gestation.
Scottish Public Health Minister Michael Matheson accepted the findings in full and announced the establishment of the independent team to be led by former prosecutor Dame Elish Angiolini.
He said: "Parents can be reassured every step will be taken in order to find out what happened to their babies."
The report said the death of an infant brought “unbearable” grief and distress to parents who may have longed for a child or lost a much loved baby.
"To learn later of uncertainty about the existence and disposal of their babies' ashes has compounded the grief, caused further distress to many, and given rise to mixed emotions in others,” it said.
Research by the BBC found that the ashes of more than 1,000 babies in the UK had not been returned to their parents over the past five years.