Statement issued by Aberdeen City Council Chief Executive to Council on National Cremation Investigation
National Cremation Investigation
Statement to Council, 29th June 2016
Thank you Lord Provost
Members will be aware that Dame Elish Angiolini published her report on the National Cremation Investigation on Monday this week. I felt that it was important to give an immediate public response to the report on behalf of the Council and therefore on Monday afternoon I attended a media conference and spoke at the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee. A Council helpline was put in place on Monday to offer support to families affected by the issues raised in the Investigation report.
Members will appreciate that having only received the report on Monday I have not as yet had the opportunity to consider its content fully. It is critical that I do that now and that I report back fully to Council. When I spoke to the Audit, Risk and Scrutiny Committee I indicated that I would submit my report to Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee as the relevant service committee for the Crematorium. On reflection, I now believe that it would be more appropriate to bring a report to Full Council and to do this immediately after the recess.
I fully understand the shock and upset felt by families affected by past practices at the Crematorium and the public wish to be assured that people are held to account for those past practices.
On receiving in June 2014 the anonymous allegation relating to the joint cremation of babies and adults, I immediately shared the letter with Lord Bonomy, Chair of the Infant Cremation Commission as the allegation cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence provided by the Council to the Commission.
Service management immediately undertook a full internal investigation which resulted in the dismissal of the Crematorium Manager and no action being taken against a further two members of staff.
I had indicated on receipt of the anonymous allegation that I would instigate my own investigation bearing in mind that at the time I was not formally in post as the Council’s Chief Executive. By the time I had taken up post in July 2014, Dame Elish’s National Cremation Investigation was underway and it was agreed that it would take on the investigation of the allegations made in relation to practices at Aberdeen Crematorium.
Regrettably Dame Elish has found the allegation to be true and that unethical and abhorrent practices had taken place over many years at Aberdeen Crematorium. I said on Monday and I say again today that I fully concur with Dame Elish’s description of the past practices and I once again apologise wholeheartedly on behalf of the Council for the distress such practices have caused.
As I have already said, I received the report on Monday. Yesterday, I formally instructed the Head of Legal and the Head of Human Resources to review the report fully and to advise me what further action I require to take. I will fully review the report myself and consider the advice I receive from the two Heads of Service before bringing my own report to Council in August.
In addition I understand that the Crown Office has indicated that it has Dame Elish’s report under consideration and I can confirm that the Council will fully co-operate with the Crown Office should it be required.
In the meantime, and in recognition of the need there is to provide public reassurance in the Crematorium as it now operates, I have invited Robert Swanson, Inspector of Crematoria Scotland to undertake an inspection of Aberdeen Crematorium. This he will do in the next few days and I will of course bring his findings to Council in August.
As we did with the recommendations made by Lord Bonomy, the Council fully accepts the recommendations made by Dame Elish. Many of her recommendations are for Chief Executives to address and I am committed to doing so personally on behalf of the Council.
I hope what I have set out to members today provides you with the reassurance the Council requires that the findings of this important investigation are being fully and urgently addressed so that a report can be brought to Council in order that members can fully scrutinise the actions of its officers.
Having said all this, I feel deeply and I’m sure all in the Chamber do so too, that in addressing all these matters we must never forget the impact there has been on the families affected by the past practices at the Crematorium.
I can only imagine how awful it must be to lose a child; it is truly terrible to now think that the Council has added in any way to the impact of that loss.
Sadly, I can’t undo what has happened in the past. What I can do is make sure that nothing like it happens again at the Crematorium.