As It Happens

Scottish mother's suspicions confirmed after baby's coffin found empty decades later

Forty-two years after newborn baby Gary Paton died in Edinburgh, an exhumation of his grave has confirmed what his mother had long suspected — that his coffin is empty.
No human remains were found in Gary Paton's coffin — just some clothes, a cross and this misspelled name plate. (Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification)

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Lydia Reid has suspected for the last 42 years that her son's grave was empty — and it turns out she was right.

"I was hoping to be wrong," the Edinburgh woman told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I didn't want to be right. There was just nothing there. No baby."

Gary was just seven days old when he died at Edinburgh's Hospital for Sick Children in 1975. 

I don't know how this is going to end up. I don't know what answers I'm going to get. I can only keep trying.- Lydia Reid

Forensic anthropologist Sue Black from the University of Dundee conducted an exhumation of the baby's grave last month.

According to Black's report, the coffin contained a shroud, a hat, a cross and a misspelled name tag — but no trace of human remains.

"There is no hair inside the hat, there is no bone inside the coffin shroud. It was not there and I have never seen that before," Black told the BBC.

"Ultimately there is only one possible logical explanation and that is that the body was not put in that coffin."

It's what Reid has always suspected, but that didn't make it any easier to learn.

"I was outraged. There's nothing else you can say. I was absolutely outraged. Where there should have been my son, there was clothes," she said.

"Where is my son? Why is he not in his grave? Give me some answers. Give me his body back."

When Gary died, Reid said funeral directors showed her the body of a baby boy that looked nothing like the child she gave birth to. And when she later carried his coffin, it felt weightless. 

Forensic anthropologist Sue Black told the BBC: 'There is no hair inside the hat, there is no bone inside the coffin shroud.' (University of Dundee Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification)

But when she tried to sound the alarm, people dismissed her as a hysterical, grieving mother.

Still, Reid had little trust for hospital officials. According to a post-mortem provided to As It Happens by her lawyer, Gary died of complications due to a blockage in his intestines caused by "the retention of a catheter in the abdominal cavity which had broken during treatment."

Lawyer David Short called the death "medical negligence."

Renowned forensic anthropologist Sue Black of the University of Dundee oversaw the exhumation and examination of Gary Paton's coffin. (University of Dundee )

Her suspicion that something was amiss grew in the 1990s when she became a leading campaigner to expose how Scottish hospitals retained body parts, without consent, for research following a public inquiry into practices at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool, England.

About 6,000 organs and tissues were retained by Scottish hospitals between 1970 and 2000, many from children, the BBC reports.

Reid suspects Gary's body was taken for this purpose, though she has no evidence to that effect.

"I don't know. I can only say that I won't give up until I find the answers," she said. "I don't know how this is going to end up. I don't know what answers I'm going to get. I can only keep trying."

The National Health Service in Scotland did not respond to As It Happens' request for comment, but said in a statement to the BBC that police are investigating the matter.

A spokesperson for Scotmid Co-operative Funerals, which directed Gary's funeral in 1975, said they contacted police the minute they became aware of the situation.

"We also recently met with Mrs. Reid and close members of her family to offer our full support in what has been an extremely distressing situation for them," a Scotmid spokesperson said in an email. "We will co-operate fully with Police Scotland to help with any investigation."

In the meantime, Reid plans to keep doing what she's been doing for decades — fighting to uncover the truth.

"I will not stop until my son is found."

With files from Reuters

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