The scandal of Mortonhall can be summed up by one line, on page 536, of Dame Elish’s vast and comprehensive report: “There is overwhelming evidence that foetal bones do survive cremation, at least from 17 weeks gestation.”
So, what was the point? Why deprive grieving parents of the truth about their babies’ remains, and the chance to say goodbye properly?
“Inertia,” according to Angiolini. The fact is, staff at Mortonhall simply didn’t bother trying. Funeral directors and the NHS failed to question the practice. Edinburgh Council failed to adequately supervise.
Dame Elish’s report pulls no punches, and will also make uncomfortable reading for Hazlehead Crematorium in Aberdeen which claims it doesn’t get ashes from babies up to 18 months old.
She makes urgent recommendations for changes in practice, and in law, which has implications for the national review being carried out by Lord Bonomy.
But Dame Elish was unable to definitively answer the question on each affected parent’s lips about the final resting place of their baby. They, she concludes, “will now be left with a lifetime of uncertainty about their baby’s final resting place”.
They have been failed by the people and organisations in whom they put their trust, at the most grief-stricken time of their lives. And that’s something that can never be put right.