Following the publicity in Scotland in late 2012 about Mortonhall crematorium in Scotland retaining and then disposing of babies’ ashes without the parents’ knowledge or consent, the Scottish Government set up the Infant Cremation Commission, Scotland, to look at practices and make recommendations for the future. At the same time, Edinburgh Council, which is responsible for Mortonhall crematorium, set up the Mortonhall Investigation Team. Ann McMurray, Sands’ Scottish Network Convenor, sits on the Government Commission and Sands sent the Commission a submission on behalf of bereaved parents. Sands has also met with the Mortonhall Investigation Team.

There has been widespread publicity about this in Scotland, causing a great deal of distress and worry to parents in Scotland. While publicity in the rest  of the UK has been limited,  this is likely to change following  publication of the Commission’s  and the Investigation Team’s reports. We recognise that this will cause further distress to parents in Scotland, and will be very disturbing to those bereaved parents in the rest of the UK who were told, when their baby was cremated, that there would be no ashes. In light of this, we want to let you know what Sands is doing and also to give you information that we hope will be helpful.

Ensuring best practice from now on

We know that the practice of disposing of babies’ ashes without the parents’ knowledge or consent is not confined to Scotland, and that there are some crematoria in England and Wales that do not offer ashes to parents.

We also know that there are many crematoria that take great care when cremating a baby to try to ensure that ashes remain and can be offered to parents. The Institute of Cemetery and Cremation Authorities (ICCM) supports our views, and provides guidance to crematoria on how to ensure that there are ashes whenever possible.

We aim to ensure that, in future, bereaved parents throughout the UK will always be offered ashes after a cremation. However, we do acknowledge that in certain specific circumstances, this may not be possible:

  • following the cremation of a very small or premature baby, including a baby born well before 24 completed weeks, there may be very few or no ashes. However, Sands’ view is that, when there are ashes, the parents should always be offered the option of having  them, however few.
  • when one or more babies are cremated together, it is not always possible to offer individual ashes to parents. In this case, the parents must always be informed beforehand and must be told where the ashes will be buried or scattered so that they too have a place to visit if they want to.

To try and ensure best practice throughout the UK in the future we will be writing to:

  • all the organisations that run crematoria, to ask them to make sure that ashes are offered to parents whenever possible.
  • Funeral directors who work closely with crematorium staff, stating Sands’ position and the importance of ashes to parents.
  • the Chief Executives of Trusts and Health Boards in England, Scotland and Wales and to Heads of Midwifery. We will be asking them to review the contracts they have with local crematoria to ensure that, whenever possible, ashes that remain after a cremation are offered to the parents. We will also be asking Trusts and Health Boards to ensure that, when the hospital organises the cremation of a single baby, there is a system in place to ensure that the parents are always informed when the ashes are available for collection.

Information for parents whose baby was cremated and who were not offered ashes

At Sands, we know how distressing this issue is, especially for parents who were not offered ashes. Sadly, there is little we can do about past practice except to try to support parents who are affected. Here is some information for parents who had no ashes and who want to find out why.

If your baby was cremated and you were told there would be no ashes, the only way to find out more is to contact the manager of the crematorium or the funeral director and to ask what happened after your baby’s cremation. There are several questions you could ask. These include:

  • Why was I told there were would be no ashes?
  • What happened to what was left after the cremation was completed?
  • Why did I get no ashes when I know that parents who used other crematoria did?

You could also ask:

  • What steps are you taking to ensure that, in future, parents are given what remains after the cremation of their baby is completed?

Please don’t feel you have to ask these questions. Only ask the questions you feel comfortable with.

If you are not satisfied with the response you get, you can contact the organisation that runs the crematorium. This may be your local council or one of the following organisations:

  • The Co-Op, The Co-operative Crematoria and cemeteries, 1 Angel Square,
    Manchester M69 OAG
  • The London Cremation Company, Hoop Lane, Golders Green,
    London NW11 7NL
  • Dignity UK, King Edwards Court, King Edwards Square, Sutton Coldfield,
    West Midlands B73 6AP               
  • Westerleigh Group, Chapel View, Westerleigh Road, Westerleigh, Bristol BS37 8QP

These organisations will not be able to give you any more information about your baby. However, you may want to tell them that the practice at the crematorium where your baby was cremated was distressing and unsupportive to grieving parents. You could also explain that the death of a baby before, during or shortly after birth is a major bereavement. And you might want to explain the importance to parents of having everything that was associated with their baby, and how significant it is for many to have ashes to bury or scatter so that they have a focal point for their grief, now and in the future.

If you would like any more information, please contact

Cheryl Titherly

cheryl.titherly@uk-sands.org 

Sands Improving Bereavement Care Team 30 April 2014

Parents needing support can contact the Sands helpline on 020 7436 5881 or email helpline@uk-sands.org