Shrewsbury baby ashes inquiry: Report

An independent inquiry into infant cremations at Emstrey Crematorium in Shrewsbury was commissioned by Shropshire Council following requests from bereaved families to investigate cases where no ashes were returned to families following the cremation of a baby or unborn child. The inquiry commenced on 10 December 2014 and was led by David Jenkins, a solicitor and former Chief Executive of Dorset County Council, who was been recommended for the role by the Local Government Association.

The Terms of Reference included a review the policies, practices and procedures adopted by Emstrey Crematorium and its partners when carrying out infant cremations during the past fifteen-year period, and to publish a series of findings and recommendations. For the purposes of the inquiry, “infant cremations” included cremations of foetuses of more than 24 weeks and infants of up to 12 months. However, the inquiry also had discretion exceptionally to consider individual cases of children older than this at the request of individual parents.

The inquiry team interviewed bereaved families, current and former members of crematorium staff, council officers, representatives from Co-Operative Funeralcare – the current operator of Emstrey Crematorium – representatives from funeral directors, staff from other crematoria, support groups and health professionals, government officials and others.

The 48-page Independent Inquiry Report was supplemented by a further 47 pages of Appendices. The inquiry established inter alia:

  • 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.
  • 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.

While David Jenkins established that the failure to return ashes after infant cremations at Emstrey is historic rather than current, he made a number of recommendations for future practice. Furthermore he noted that some of these are of national, as well as local, significance and call for a national response.

Comment

There are obvious similarities between this inquiry and that commissioned by the Edinburgh City Council which led to the Bonomy Report, and these two earlier reports are considered in sections 1.36 to 1.38 of the Shropshire document. However, the Scottish Government Consultation is not considered as it was outwith the remit of the Inquiry.

A subsequent post will consider the Shropshire Report in greater detail, drawing upon our earlier posts in this area: Cremation following miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death: the Mortonhall Report; Infant cremation: Bonomy Report recommends changes; Burial law reform in Scotland; and Cremation “ashes” and their legal definition.

3 thoughts on “Shrewsbury baby ashes inquiry: Report

  1. I would query whether the Cremation Society of Great Britain has given advice and information over past decades to ensure problems such as these could never arise.

  2. I agree Teresa. It would also be useful to consider what codes of practice have been in existence and for how long, e.g. provided by the Federation of British Cremation Authorities, the Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management and manufacturers of the equipment.

    John Bradfield.

    • Thank you both for your comments. I have updated the post which now includes the comment “This practice [i.e. between 1996 and 2013] seems to have been accepted locally as the norm,” which emphasises the points you raise.

      In relation to the equipment used, the Mortonhall Inquiry stated [page 525] “There has been little development attention paid by the industry to how full-size cremators operate with infant cremations and, if there are to be consistent successful infant cremations, (i.e. with recoverable remains), changes are necessary”,

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