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Baby ashes scandal: Fire those to blame, say grieving parents

Pete Leonard
Pete Leonard

Council boss Angela Scott yesterday refused to rule out dismissing staff caught up in the baby ashes scandal as she offered to meet the grieving families.

Aberdeen City Council’s chief executive faced the full council yesterday for the first time since a shock report uncovered “abhorrent” practices at the city’s crematorium.

The National Cremation Investigation – led by Dame Elish Angiolini – revealed infants were often cremated in the same chamber as unrelated adults.

Yesterday, Mrs Scott told councillors she was still assessing the full “scale and scope” of the findings, and that she would provide a tell-all report on the “failures” at the Hazlehead crematorium in August.

She vowed to leave “no stone unturned” and offered to meet personally with any affected families.

But last night furious parents rejected her offer, and demanded the council seriously consider the future of those culpable.

Gillian Mellis, of Stockethill, lost her baby in 1997 when her pregnancy was at full term.

She said: “I think that anyone and everyone who knew what was going on there, and who turned their backs, should be fired. They would be in any other job.

“I have no interest in meeting with Mrs Scott to hear what she has to say. What’s done is done and nothing they can say or do now will change that.”

Miss Mellis cast doubt over the need for another probe by the council, and claimed it would simply “cover up” what had happened.

“Any report carried out by them will no doubt be designed to cover up what they have done,” she said. “We have answers now and that is what’s important.”

Garthdee dad Paul Wells never received his month-old son Scott’s ashes after he died of cot death in 2006.

The 42-year-old painter and decorator said he believed a full internal review needed to be carried out by the council, and admitted he was “not surprised” the council had not yet made a decision about whether individuals should be held responsible.

He said: “It is definitely something they have to deal with internally. I think they have to have a full internal inquiry into what has been going on and if they discover that people need to go then they should go. It has taken two-and-a-half years to get to this point and I am not surprised they are sitting on the fence.”

He added he had been trying, through solicitors, to meet council bosses and that it was now “too little, too late”.

Earlier this week, the Crown Office confirmed the report by the National Cremation Investigation – which looked at more than 200 infant cremation cases following the Mortonhall baby ashes scandal in 2014 – was “under consideration”.

Aberdeen City Council was heavily criticised in the report and chiefs have now contacted their legal and HR chiefs to consider the next steps.

When quizzed whether any senior staff would face the axe following the revelations Mrs Scott said: “I think we have to allow process to be followed now and take the time.

“I only received the report on Monday and take the time to go fully through the report. I wouldn’t want to speculate on what action there may be, but I will certainly set it out to council after recess.”

Inspectors from Crematoria Scotland will now work closely with the city council to give “reassurance” around the management of the crematorium, and will be visiting regularly.

Mrs Scott added: “The chief inspector said to me today that we will be subject to one or two visits from him a year and one of those will be an inspection.

“The results of his inspection I will share of course with council and committee and will be publicly available.”

The chief executive stressed that the procedures and processes at the crematorium had already been changed.

She added: “If any family wishes, then I would be happy to meet with all of them. I understand their need for information and their need to know that people are being held to account for what happened.

“We have done a comprehensive review of all our procedures and processes and we are clear that the type of failures that were seen in this report can never happen again in Aberdeen.”

Angela Scott
Angela Scott

Investigation findings being ‘urgently addressed’

Chief executive Angela Scott told the full council that the findings of the investigation were being “fully and urgently addressed” so that the actions of those involved can be thoroughly scrutinised.

She told chambers: “I fully understand the shock and upset felt by families affected by past practices at the crematorium and the public wish to be assured that people are held to account for those past practices.

“Whilst Aberdeen City Council accepts full responsibility, senior management placed reliance on an individual who had an established reputation and all appropriate qualifications.

“The decision by senior management of the time to place reliance on the audit undertaken by the council’s external auditor sought to provide some independent re-assurance.

“However, whilst the scope of the audit matched that of the equivalent audit undertaken at Mortonhall, it is clear that neither the scope of the audit, nor the type of the auditor used, was appropriate to the particular circumstances.”

She assured councillors that the local authority would cooperate fully withe Crown Office as they consider the report.

“Having said all this, I feel deeply and I’m sure all in the chamber do so too, that in addressing all these matters we must never forget the impact there has been on the families affected by the past practices at the crematorium,” she added.

“I can only imagine how awful it must be to lose a child; it is truly terrible to now think that the council has added in any way to the impact of that loss.

“Sadly, I can’t undo what has happened in the past. What I can do is make sure that nothing like it happens again at the crematorium.”

Mrs Scott was quizzed by members, with council leader Jenny Laing urging her to “leave no stone unturned” in her report.

Opposition SNP leader Stephen Flynn stressed that going forward, “accountability is key” for the council.

Anybody affected by the incidents at Hazlehead Crematorium should contact the council’s dedicated helpline on 01224 522255.