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Families sue Shropshire Council over children's ashes

Published 26/10/2015

Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury failed to return ashes of cremated children to their parents (The Co-operative Funeralcare/PA)
Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury failed to return ashes of cremated children to their parents (The Co-operative Funeralcare/PA)

Bereaved families who never had the ashes of their babies returned are taking legal action against the council which ran the crematorium.

An independent inquiry into infant cremations at the Shropshire Council-run Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury which concluded earlier this year uncovered 51 cases where ashes were not returned to grieving loved ones.

Lawyers for 19 affected families are claiming the council breached the Human Rights Act.

Ian Cohen, a solicitor with law firm Slater Gordon, is alleging that parents suffered "psychological injury" as a result of not receiving their babies' remains, in breach of Articles 8 and 9 of the Human Rights Act - the right to respect for an individual's private and family life and the right to an individual's religious thoughts and beliefs.

He said: "Every parent will understand the fundamental need to look after and protect their children and those feelings don't stop after they have passed away.

"The families we have spoken to cannot help but feel that they have failed to protect their children and that is as a result of the actions of Shropshire Council."

Mr Cohen said the families were keen not to see the mistakes of the past repeated, after it emerged that families elsewhere in England and Wales had also been similarly affected.

A national consultation about baby cremations in England and Wales was announced for the end of this year by Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage back in July, a month after the independent inquiry's conclusion.

However, Mr Cohen said the families had had no contact from the Ministry of Justice since then.

Mr Cohen added: "Our clients are very concerned that some three months have passed and they are yet to have any contact from Mrs Dinenage or the Ministry of Justice.

"The minister has also accepted that, sadly, other families have had similar experiences elsewhere.

"There is a real desire from these families to be involved in the consultation.

"They weren't involved in the original decisions taken regarding their children's ashes and, when the report was done for Shropshire Council, most of them weren't asked to give evidence.

"In order to ensure that lessons are learned, they have to be given a voice and consulted about what has happened, what went wrong and what can be done to put it right."

The crematorium is no longer operated by the council.

Mr Cohen went on: "The Government said there would be a review and all we are asking is that this is done swiftly and sensitively and to ensure that other families do not have to go through the same ordeal."

In June, an independent inquiry commissioned by Shropshire Council found 51 cremations between 2000 and 2014 where ashes were not recovered.

The inquiry established that the cremation equipment and techniques employed at Emstrey between 1996 and 2012 resulted in there being no ashes from the cremations of children of less than a year old which c ould be returned to funeral directors and families.

It also concluded the problem was a historic rather than a current issue.

The Action for Ashes campaign group, made up of bereaved parents, handed in a 61,000-signature petition to the Government earlier this year, calling for the return of cremated ashes to become law.

George Candler, Shropshire Council's director of commissioning, said: " Shropshire Council confirms that they have received a letter of notification from Slater & Gordon in respect of Emstrey Crematorium, and this has been passed to the council's insurers, who will deal with the matter confidentially in the usual way."

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