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Continuing heartbreak for families told there were no ashes available from their babies

DOROTHY Maitland was told in 1986 by staff at Mortonhall Crematorium that there would be no remains of her baby daughter Kaelen, who had lived for just nine days.

Like countless other families, struck by unimaginable grief, she had little choice but to accept in good faith the explanation that the bones of babies were so soft that there could be no ashes following the cremation process.

Even after becoming operations manager of bereavement charity Sands Lothians, and learning that ashes from infants cremated at nearby facilities in Edinburgh were apparently given to families, Ms Maitland trusted the advice from Mortonhall's then-bereavement services manager, George Bell, that it was others who were wrong. What was provided was in fact coffin remnants and not actually baby remains, he assured her.

It was the appointment of Mr Bell's replacement, Charlie Holt, as well as the appointment of freelance writer Lesley Winton to write a book about the work of Sands, that led to emergence of the harrowing truth.

While carrying out research for her project, Ms Winton paid a visit to Seafield Crematorium, hoping to learn about funeral services and the support offered to bereaved families while also carrying out interviews with parents who had lost babies. She became immediately concerned after finding that those using Seafield and Warriston crematoria had been given the remains of their children, while those who had used Mortonhall, had not.

Jane Darby, the boss at Seafield, said she had always managed to obtain ashes from deceased, miscarried and stillborn babies by simply modifying settings on the cremator equipment to lower its temperature.

Shocked by the ease with which she had obtained the information from Ms Darby and immediately aware of the significance of what she had been told, the writer shared her findings with Ms Maitland who arranged a meeting with Mr Holt in October 2012.

She was to be given an altogether different account from that which she had accepted from the previous regime.

The new bereavement services manager said that he had "changed things" and so that families could receive the ashes of their children, something that she had been led to believe was impossible. He advised her that he had introduced a tray for use inside the cremation chamber to help collect ashes from babies or foetuses, a practice that had previously been banned on the grounds of health and safety.

Ms Maitland, in shock at what she had been told, then asked to see 27-year-old records detailing the cremation of her own daughter. Mr Holt then broke the news that the register indicated that Kaelen's remains had in fact been interred in a Garden of Rest at the crematorium.

Her colleague at Sands Helen Henderson, who had been in the same situation following the death of her bay son Nathan in 2004, made her own enquiries.

She was told that her son was in the garden, although records state that there were no remains. They were told hundreds of babies who had died over 44 years were buried in there without the knowledge of their families, who were deprived of the opportunity to say a proper farewell.

Contextual targeting label: 
Families

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