Probe at Crematorium after skull and spine found

Roselawn crematorium
Roselawn crematorium

Ulster’s only crematorium is at the centre of a probe after a spine and skull were found in a burner.

The grisly find was made three weeks ago at the City of Belfast crematorium at Roselawn at the start of a morning shift.

But it was too late to reunite the body parts with the rest of the person’s remains as the ashes had already been collected.

A technician has been suspended while an investigation is carried out but the family of the deceased hasn’t been told.

The shocking lapse was recorded on CCTV cameras which were installed after rotting baby remains were found in urns in the crematorium two years ago.

On that occasion the tiny remains hadn’t been cremated for long enough and tissue fragments had begun to give off an odour.

In the recent incident it’s believed the adult remains were cremated in the last cycle of the day and then the burner was raked out and the ashes were placed in an urn.

However the large pieces of bone were left behind in the cremator and stayed there overnight.

The find raised questions about why the bones hadn’t been fully cremated, and why they weren’t discovered when the rest of the ashes were raked out. Staff are supposed to ensure that all ashes have been removed so relatives know they are receiving all of their loved one’s remains.

When technicians opened the cremator the following morning they were horrified to discover the substantial pieces of bone. Most of the vertebrae and a large section of skull were still in the cremator.

And they couldn’t reunite the bones with the rest of the remains because the ashes had already been taken by either relatives or an undertaker.

They took pictures of the cremator’s contents and sent them to the crematorium management, sparking a probe. Security cameras which are monitored off site will have also been scrutinised as part of the internal enquiry.

The technician responsible for cremating the remains has now been suspended while their conduct is investigated.

Failing to carry out crematorium duties properly and bringing the facility into disrepute are serious enough for an employee to be dismissed.

News of the serious breach was kept under wraps and the family affected have not been told, leading to allegations of a council cover up.

It’s another blow for Belfast City Council which runs the cemetery and crematorium.

It was criticised last month when graves in Roselawn cemetery were flooded after heavy rain.

Twelves graves were affected and one woman described the horror of discovering her recently buried mother’s grave brimming with water.

The council also kept a lid on its investigation into the incident two years ago when it was suspected that foetal remains weren’t properly cremated.

That came to light when three urns containing infant ashes started to smell. They were from a 40 week stillborn baby, a 13 week gestation foetus and medical tissue.

The ashes had to be cremated again and the families involved were never told there was a query over how their foetal remains had been treated.

An internal memo said the times recorded for cremation “may not have been long enough to ensure that a full cremation had taken place.”

An external investigator from the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management brought in by the council to look into the treatment of baby remains raised concerns about cremation timings and record keeping.

His report cast doubt on the accuracy of log sheets for June 2013 when the cremations took place and said an odour would usually come from internal organs which take longer to cremate.

The investigator eventually exonerated the crematorium and said the urns’ contents could have been contaminated, but never established how that may have happened.

The incident led to a technician being disciplined, although there is no suggestion they were responsible for the initial cremations.

Freedom of Information requests revealed that cremations on infant remains were stopped early on 41 occasions over a three year period, but the council denied any wrongdoing at its facility.

A spokesperson said in relation to the recent incident that a “specific allegation” had been made.

“We are satisfied that the cremation was completed correctly but are investigating the allegation. We can confirm that an employee has been placed on precautionary paid suspension, in line with agreed council procedures while the investigation is being carried out.”