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New cremation rules in wake of baby ashes scandal

Regulations about how long crematoriums in Scotland must keep records of burial are to come into force, the Public Health Minister said.

Crematoriums in Scotland must keep people’s remains for at least four weeks after their cremation under new rules created in the wake of the baby ashes scandal.

It emerged in 2013 at least 250 dead babies cremated at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh were buried in secret.

The scandal, which took place for more than four decades, meant hundreds of parents will never know the final resting place of their children.

An independent commission, chaired by Lord Bonomy, was tasked with investigating legislation related to the cremation of infants in Scotland.

It made 64 recommendations, which were all accepted by the Scottish Government, and new rules – for both deceased children and adults – are due to come into force in April.

For the very first time we will set out procedures and timescales for handling and dispersal of ashes Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick

Scotland’s crematoriums will not be able to dispose of a person’s ashes for at least four weeks after cremation and must keep records of where the remains were buried or scattered for a minimum of 50 years – up from 15 years under current regulations.

Giving evidence about the proposal to Holyrood’s Health Committee, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “The regulations standardise cremation practices, putting in place clear and consistent processes at all cremations.

“They introduce new requirements on cremation authorities which are specifically designed to prevent unacceptable practices that we have seen in the past.

“Failure to comply with these requirements is an offence under the Burial and Cremations Scotland Act and for the very first time we will set out procedures and timescales for handling and dispersal of ashes.

“In line with Lord Bonomy’s recommendations, they increase record retention timescales from 15 years to 50 years, guaranteeing future traceability for families.”

He added: “The death of a loved one is – for most people – one of the most difficult experiences we will ever face.

“It is crucial, therefore, that when a person dies each agency or organisation involved at that time ensures they are respectful and sensitive to the wishes of the bereaved; maintaining the dignity of the deceased at all times.”

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Joe FitzPatrick (Jane Barlow/PA)

The regulations also introduce new application forms which distinguish between different types of cremation.

Mr FitzPatrick said: “Forms have been deliberately designed in this way to be sensitive to the individual circumstances – a recommendation of Lord Bonomy.

“Importantly, each form contains a separate section on ashes, creating a formal record of the applicants wishes and introducing an additional safeguard for the applicant.”

Inspector of Crematoria Robert Swanson told MSPs that, since his appointment in 2014 “there has been 100% recovery of baby – and indeed adult – ashes since that time”.

He welcomed the new measures all 30 of the crematoriums currently operating in Scotland will have to adhere to.

Responding to a question by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP about support for the families caught up in the baby ashes scandal, Cheryl Paris from the Government’s burial and cremation team said: “At the time the Scottish Government gave money to support agencies to help families who had come forward who would like counselling or other support.

“There are still families that are still having ongoing support,” she said, adding: “The support is still there if families need it.”

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