Dignity at last for Alder Hey babies

Mourners have wept today as 50 unknown babies whose bodies were secretly stored for medical research were buried in oak caskets.

At least 1,000 unidentified babies were kept at the University of Liverpool - most of them foetuses of less than 28 weeks gestation. The majority died at least 25 years ago and some date back to the 1950s.

The remains were revealed during the inquiry into the Alder Hey organ retention scandal, in which body parts were taken from dead children without their parents' knowledge.

Seven of the unidentified babies came from Alder Hey but the rest were obtained from other hospitals.

A burial service was held today at Liverpool's Allerton Cemetery for the first 50 babies, each in an oak casket bearing a numbered plaque.

Inside the babies wore white or lemon gowns and were covered by specially-designed "blankets of love".

The remainder will be buried at similar services held every Thursday over the coming months.

Caskets stacked in layers

All but one of the caskets were already in the grave before the service, stacked in layers of ten.

Mourners, many of them parents affected by the Alder Hey scandal, wept as the final one was placed in by hand by a cemetery worker, who used a ladder to get into the grave.

The 15-minute service was led by the Rev Dr Ian Lovett, a hospital chaplain at Liverpool's Aintree Hospital. Also in attendance was the Alder Hey hospital chaplain, the Rev Dave Williams, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, and representatives of the Roman Catholic, Muslim and Hindu faiths.

Dr Lovett told the 50-strong crowd of mourners: "Those of us gathered here represent all who have journeyed with these babies, a journey which brings us to this point today, a day filled with emotion and sadness.

"Our prayer is that healing love would surround, support and uphold all those who were affected by their death."

The service also featured a poem and a passage from Psalm 139, read by the bishop, as well as blessings and prayers.

It was attended by representatives of Liverpool University, the city council and members of PITY II, the support group set up by parents who discovered their children's body parts had been taken during post mortem.

At the end of the service, mourners lined up to scatter earth on the coffins.

Flowers were also laid at the graveside. The largest display, from the University of Liverpool, had a card which read: "At peace now".

Parents 'adopted' unknown babies

Speaking after the service, the Bishop Jones praised the Alder Hey parents for "adopting" the unknown babies.

He said: "What they have done today is adopted these unidentified babies and said to them 'You may be unknown but we take you to ourselves and on behalf of the community we lay you to rest'.

"We hope this will be an end to this sad episode, from which we will learn, but it is not an end to their memory."

PITY II co-founder Paula O'Leary, whose 11-month-old son Andrew had his organs taken following his death in 1981, plans to attend every service.

She said: "The moment I found out about these unidentified babies, it just broke my heart.

"I knew straightaway that we had to get them out of the hospital and into a cemetery, where they should have been in the first place. We've had to fight all the way but I couldn't rest until these babies were given the dignity they deserve.

Mrs O'Leary added that the burials will bring peace to the babies but may cause grief for parents yet to learn their babies were taken.