Sunday 18 November 2018

Nun slapped and force-fed children in her care

By JANE WATTERS

A NUN who slapped, force-fed and threw dirty underwear at vulnerable youngsters in her care at children's homes was yesterday convicted of four counts of cruelty.

Marie Docherty (58), also known as Sister Alphonso, terrified children into submission at Scottish care homes during the 1960s and 1970s, Aberdeen Sheriff Court was told.



Lawyers said the guilty verdicts could open the way for a flood of compensation claims. One victim told the court she had been regularly ``battered'', while others spoke of being punched, slapped and hit with hairbrushes by Docherty at homes run by the Catholic Congregation of Poor Sisters of Nazareth.



The Catholic Church said it was ``deeply ashamed'' that children at the homes had been mistreated and said it had drawn up guidelines to prevent such incidents in future.



The court had heard of a catalogue of abuse at the two homes, both called Nazareth House, whose residents were often children with disturbed backgrounds who had been abandoned by their parents.



Helen Cusiter (43) told the court she would be ``battered'' two or three times a week by Docherty, who would tell the frightened children: ``Shut your mouth. Don't say nothing.''



Mrs Cusiter, who lived at the Aberdeen home between 1966 and 1972, said she was hit with a fist or hairbrush and was repeatedly force-fed.



Patricia O'Brien, now 44, who was also resident at the Aberdeen home from 1966 to 1972, said she had been punched and slapped by Docherty.



Jeanette Adams (41) was hit with a hairbrush and force-fed while living at Nazareth House in Aberdeen, while 37-year-old Grace Montgomery said she had been force-fed sweets and had dirty underwear thrown at her at the Lasswade home near Bonnyrigg in Midlothian, between 1973 and 1979.



The nun was found guilty of four separate counts of cruel and unnatural treatment in respect of the four women.



Docherty was cleared of claims she had forced children to kiss her feet, kneel in the corridor all night and hit them with rosary beads.



She told the trial she often felt guilty when she recalled some of her actions in Aberdeen, but claimed she had loved the children in her care in Midlothian.



She said: ``Looking back it seems so regimented, but what else could you do in those days?''



After the verdicts were returned, compensation lawyer Cameron Fyfe said he was representing 420 former residents of several Nazareth House homes and care homes run by the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.



Mr Fyfe said the claims could amount to millions of pounds.



Speaking on behalf of the four victims, he said: ``All along the order of the Catholic Church refused to believe them and had refused to accept that any abuse had taken place.''



Sheriff Harris deferred sentence until September 28 pending a medical report on the condition of Docherty, who has a heart condition.



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