With special thanks to Glen Perkins, Nick Southall, Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton. This eight-part article will be published each day this week. Read part six here. Some may find the content distressing.
While investigations such as the independent report conducted by David Jenkins into the missing baby ashes in Shrewsbury, and the recommended legislations such as those he called for are imperative for preventing this from happening to other parents, in many ways it goes little way to undoing the damage caused.
As Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton, who lost their daughter Kate in March 2009 and never received ashes after her cremation, describe in their press release: “We feel that Kate has been taken from us – stolen from us – all over again, and we have the deepest pain that our daughter is lost forever – in all likelihood consigned to an unmarked grave. We now believe that her ashes were thrown away as so-called 'fly ash' and likely buried in the grounds of the crematorium at Shrewsbury. We feel sick to our very soul and our despair is indescribable.”
They continue, “Learning about the evil things that happened at the poisonous environment in Emstrey Crematorium means that our lifetime of pain has been compounded to a point where we struggle to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. We have been to hell and back in our long fight to get to the truth about why Kate died, and now our pain has been made even harder to cope with.”
On a personal level, the report was of little comfort to Glen Perkins, founder of Action for Ashes and father to Olivia, who died aged four-and-a-half months and who was cremated at Emstrey Crematorium. Still grieving for his daughter, he tells me, “I was looked in the eyes by David Jenkins at their press conference – I sat just in front of him – and he looked in my eyes and he said that, in his opinion, there were no remains. They were incinerated. Now incineration and cremation are two different things. I didn’t take my daughter to be incinerated. I took her to be cremated…”
He continues, “I have to live with that for the rest of my life. I regret everything. I really do. I shouldn’t have to regret that. I shouldn’t have to live with that for the rest of my life. But I will never, ever know where my daughter is. The only closure I will get now is when death meets me. I have to live the rest of my life now just knowing nothing. Having no closure. Never having closure.”
Regardless of the report being published, the questions remain for the parents affected. Perkins asks, “If they had saved her ashes, that would have been closure. We would have had something from her cremation. The metallic objects that we put in her coffin – they would have still been there after cremation. We could have had those melted down and turned into jewellery. That never happened. So where did they go? Where did they go? It is just one question after another but the most important thing is that they stole my baby’s remains and that is the lowest of the low. They stole my daughter’s remains and I will never, ever know where she is. I have to live now never knowing where she is. I have no place to go to place a teddy bear or to take flowers.”
BBC Radio Shropshire journalist, Nick Southall, is also only too aware of the impact this investigation has had on parents, despite since becoming incredibly close friends with Perkins. As Southall tells me, “It’s brought back the horrible memories [the parents] had of when they lost their children. It’s fair to say the grieving process has started all over again for them. But they say this time it’s worse, because they now know [that] had they gone to a different crematorium, they could have got remains. They’re determined to make sure this tragedy leads to national changes to prevent this from happening again. They hope to leave a legacy in their child’s name.”
On a personal level, the entire investigation has also been a harrowing experience for Southall, who has gone beyond the call of journalism to uncover the story on behalf of the families affected, but also in memory of his sister Marianne, who was stillborn in the late 1970s and buried in an unmarked grave without his parent’s knowledge.
He tells me: “It’s been a mixture of emotions - sadness hearing the families’ personal experiences but also a sense of fulfillment. I think any journalist would tell you they would like to make a difference. But it’s the families who are now pushing for national changes and deserve the credit. They have shown great strength and bravery in telling their story and carrying this fight right to the top of government. This is their victory and I'm sure their children will be very proud.”
Read part eight 'Somewhere To Go' -->
Words: Grace Carter