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“Were they scattered? Were they buried? Would we ever get them back?” – two families’ anguish over Fife ashes mix up

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Fife Council has apologised to two grieving families after they were handed the wrong ashes by Kirkcaldy Crematorium.

One of the families said: “It was heart wrenching to know that we have retained someone else’s loved one for so long without their knowledge, yet, at the same time, believing we had possession of our own loved one.”

The relatives had opened up the casket they received from the crematorium to find the  polythene bag inside, which contained the ashes, was labelled with the wrong name.

They said: “That particular evening events promoted lack of sleep and phases of anxiety not knowing what had happened.

“Were they scattered? Were they buried? Would we ever get them back?”

The remains, handed to the families in August last year, were eventually swapped back.

In its investigation report, HM Inspector for Crematoria Scotland said it was fortunate that both sets of ashes had not been scattered before the mistake was discovered.

The families’ identities have not been made public.

As a result of the investigation, the inspectorate said “on the balance of probability” the wrong ashes had been handed over and it was not the labels which had been mixed up.

A member of staff at the crematorium was said to be “adamant” the polythene bag containing the ashes had been correctly labelled and the wrong labels had been put on the caskets.

“Both families having already suffered the grief of losing a loved one endured a further avoidable period of anxiety and uncertainty on realising that they had either received the wrong ashes or the caskets containing the ashes had been wrongly labelled,” said the inspectorate.

“The investigation carried out by the inspector established that on the balance of
probability both families had indeed received the wrong ashes from their respective
funeral directors, but fortunately….both sets of ashes were exchanged then retained and not dispersed pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Fife Council senior manager Alan Paul said standards “fell well below” what was expected and the authority had taken on board recommendations made by the inspectorate.

He said: “I have already apologised to both families for what must have been a very stressing situation at a time when they were already grieving.

“I’d also like to give an assurance that both our crematoria in Fife operate to a high standard and experienced staff work to quality standards based on legislation and national guidance.”

The council was told to review staffing levels at the crematorium after the investigation found that on a “number of occasions”  just one technician was responsible for carrying out multiple duties.

Among the recommendations was that there was “no recurrence of more than one casket being prepared together at the same location”.

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