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 four here. Some may find the content distressing.

The independent 48-page report into infant cremations at Emstrey Crematorium, published on 1st June and led by David Jenkins, acknowledged the fact that: “There can surely be no more painful experience than losing one’s infant child. Bereaved families have carefully and vividly explained to me how their sense of emptiness after losing their child felt all the more desolate for having had no ashes returned to them after the cremation. They feel strongly that to have retained a tangible memory of their lost child would have helped them through their grieving.”

They feel strongly that to have retained a tangible memory of their lost child would have helped them through their grieving.

In summary, it “established that the cremation equipment and techniques that were employed at the Emstrey Crematorium between 1996 and 2012 resulted in there being no ashes from the cremation of children of less than a year old that could be returned to funeral directors and families. This practice seems to have been accepted locally as the norm.”

It also found that when “using appropriate equipment and cremation techniques, it is normally possible to preserve ashes from infant cremations. The records show that ashes have been returned to funeral directors in all cases of infant cremations conducted at Emstrey since new equipment was installed, and different cremation techniques adopted, from January 2013.”

A number of recommendations were also put in place for future practice, both for Shropshire Council to implement but also for national implementation given that “it seems to me that some of the issues I have encountered call for a national response.” This includes needing an authoritative national guidance, which currently does not exist other than on the somewhat unrelated issue of environmental protection.

This would work towards making the practice for infant cremation more consistent across the country – at the moment, it varies significantly. This is something that was called for in 2014 by the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands. On their website, they request “A UK-wide review of baby cremation practices to ensure a consistent approach to the cremation of very premature, stillborn and very young babies throughout the UK.” It is their view that “Unless offering ashes to parents becomes standard practice, public trust in crematoria practice is unlikely to be restored.”

Unless offering ashes to parents becomes standard practice, public trust in crematoria practice is unlikely to be restored.

In addition to this recommendation by Jenkins, the independent report also stated that an inspector for crematoria needs to be installed – at current, there have been no arrangements made for the “inspection of crematoria in England, and none are planned” even though the power has been there for over a century, with the Cremation Act of 1902 stating that “The Secretary of State shall make regulations as to the maintenance and inspection of crematoria, and prescribing in what cases and under what conditions the burning of any human remains may take place, and directing the disposition or interment of the ashes.”

This inspector is very much required and a crucial recommendation. As the report states, “Crematoria in England are largely un-scrutinised and, other than on the specific issue of emissions into the air, largely unregulated.” There is currently an inspector appointed in Scotland, following the Mortonhall scandal. This person would also be able to serve as an “authoritative adjudicator to whom next of kin can take complaints about their experience at a crematorium, rather than a cremation authority having to establish an inquiry in each case.”

Other recommendations included national research, giving greater definition to what “ashes” means, to establish “minimum standards of professional training” and for “continuing professional development” for crematorium supervisory and operating staff, to bring in a single government minister whose responsibility would be to coordinate the government’s approach to cremation law and practice, and further changes relating to the Bonomy Commission (the inquiry that happened post-Mortonhall).

The full report can be read here.

Read the Cremation Act 1902 here.

Read the full recommendations from Sands here.

Read part six 'Going National' -->

Words: Grace Carter