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 five here. Some may find the content distressing.
In many respects, the findings and recommendations from David Jenkins' report into the missing baby ashes from Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury are incredibly important for giving conclusive answers and bringing about a great deal of necessary change.
As Action for Ashes founder, Glen Perkins, acknowledges, “there was a desperate need to change the law and practices surrounding baby cremations. There is a desperate need to install a permanent inspector of crematoria, a national inspector. That is an absolute paramount request.”
However, for Perkins this needs to be a serious commitment from the government for reformed practice and laws: “What I don’t want to see from that, in particular, is that in a couple of months time, when the government starts to make cut backs, that they dispose of the inspectorate. It needs putting there and it’s got to be kept there. We have never had one in this country so they obviously don’t know how important this is.”
Having an inspector, whose role would be to visit crematoriums across the country and ensure a consistent practice is being implemented when cremating infants as well as providing an independent ear for parents to speak to when they feel they need further assistance, would seriously serve to help the families struggling to come to terms with their missing children’s ashes. As Perkins tells me, “When all this came out, parents had nowhere to go. I had nowhere to go. There is no ombudsman, there is nothing… It would give parents someone, something, where they could go and say this is not right. To challenge or to make sure this would have never happened...”
“…This inspector of crematoria could have listened to us, could have visited us, could have been to the crematoria. I mean if they had inspected the crematoria, they could have seen if it was in good working order, which is what the cremation regulations act demands, then Shrewsbury crematorium alone would not have been able to operate from 2005 with broken equipment.”
While in “110% agreement” with the need for an inspector, there are still parts of the report that Perkins felt were not accurate enough though. As he tells me, it was “recommended that all crematoria staff have a basic minimum training programme to qualify them to do what they do, now that isn’t enough. A basic minimum training programme isn’t enough. They need a full maximum training programme. The maximum they can get. A really extensive training programme because babies are not cremated like adults, so that I think is an oversight of Mr Jenkins. That is something I don’t accept. That is something that needs to be full and extensive to be effective. We need transparency on these things and that certainly is one of them.”
He also notes that “it wasn’t a recommendation but another thing that was mentioned is that the cremation records are kept offsite until people want to see them. Everything should be kept at the crematorium. That way the transparency is there and we can check immediately what happens.”
For Rhiannon Davies and Richard Stanton, who lost their daughter Kate in March 2009 and never received ashes after her cremation, there were aspects they also felt hadn’t been covered thoroughly enough. As their press release states, “We are deeply concerned that the investigation is not far-reaching or thorough. For example, it has not included interviews with the crematorium managers who were in place at the time of our daughter's cremation, nor with senior council staff who were fiscally responsible for the running of the crematorium at that time.”
They also wanted those in charge to take some responsibility for their actions. “We suggest these managers have no moral compass and they probably have no idea of the life-long pain they have damned us to either. We want them held to account… as all staff at the crematorium knew for many years that infant ashes would not be returned because of flawed policies and bad training, why didn't anyone ever speak out and tell bereaved families to instead go to Telford or another crematorium where infant ashes could be guaranteed? We cannot forgive those who chose not to speak out.”
Crucially though, what all parents are in agreement on, is the need for a national investigation looking far beyond just Shrewsbury. As Perkins explains, “what wasn’t mentioned and [what Jenkins] didn’t feel was necessary, was for a national investigation to be set up. That is also paramount. This thing cannot be contained in Shrewsbury and Shropshire. This thing is everywhere else. I am quite confident of that. I have dealt with cases in Hull and Sheffield and all sorts of other places that haven’t been spoken about… there are other places that will come out.” Indeed, the Hull Daily Mail reported earlier this month that baby ashes have been scattered in Hull without parents’ knowledge. For Tina Trowhill, this happened in 1994 with the ashes of her son William.
As Perkins tells me, “Focus is on getting this national investigation so that we can cover the whole of the UK – areas that haven’t even been presented for independent enquiries. It is important that that happens. That is a big, big thing… this is not a localised problem. It is not only a historic problem, it is happening today in all corners of the country. We want that to stop. By way of a national investigation, we can highlight those areas where it is happening. We can have those laws passed in parliament. And we can stop this absolutely ridiculous practice that is destroying parents lives.”
He continues, “If we can stop this from happening again and again then I will have achieved what I set out to achieve. I want people to be aware. People were not aware of cot death at one point and it was made aware of by organisations like The Lullaby Trust. Let’s get a national investigation and make people aware... Let’s put these crematoriums, local councils and hospitals under pressure to do things right. Believe me, unless anybody has been in this position, I don’t think you could ever imagine the pain and the torment that you are meant to live in day by day. This will never leave me. This will never, ever leave me.”
BBC Radio Shropshire journalist, Nick Southall, is also in agreement that this is a national scandal that needs full, country-wide exposure. “This is nationwide. There isn't one simple reason why ashes weren't returned. In some cases at other crematoria, families allege ashes were scattered without their permission and others have told me they've now discovered their child's ashes have been kept at the funeral directors for up to six years without them being notified. The families came forward after hearing our original broadcast in June 2014 exposing the Shrewsbury scandal. They then set-up their campaign group 'Action for Ashes'. That's gone from a local to a national campaign.”
A national investigation into missing baby ashes across the country is not simply desired by those affected the most either. A change.org petition launched by Perkins asking for this from Justice Minister Caroline Dineage MP, spanning back as far as 52 years ago, has received 60,297 supporters – and counting. Although it is yet to be announced that this will happen, on June 16 Perkins updated the group Facebook page to note that local MP Daniel Kawczynski had received a response from Dineage indicating that she felt the missing baby ashes were totally unacceptable, that she wants to make sure it will never happen again and that she would be reviewing Jenkins’ recommendations closely. Perkins, along with other affected parents, also met with Dineage in London earlier this week, during which time they spoke with her about their experiences and in detail about the importance of an investigation. She again reiterated that she would look at the recommendations from Jenkins' report.
Read part seven 'For The Parents' -->
Words: Grace Carter