Catholic charity sued over abuse

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The Independent Online
AT LEAST four councils and a Catholic children's charity are to be sued by former residents of children's homes run by nuns over allegations that they were neglected and abused physically and sexually.

The actions will place town halls under scrutiny for their habit of referring children to a Catholic charity even if they were not members of that church. One of the former children's home residents claims she was forcibly converted from the Protestant to the Catholic faith at the age of three in order to make her eligible for being cared for by a Catholic children's charity. She says that both the councils concerned - Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Newcastle - and the charity failed in their duty of care and that she was abused and mistreated.

The legal actions come in the wake of lengthy investigations into residential child care in the North-east. In Sunderland, three people have been arrested and charged in the second of two police inquiries into accusations of physical abuse at council homes. A previous inquiry led to the convictions of three former care workers.

After last week's revelations in the Independent on Sunday about allegations concerning homes run by the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, a former resident has come forward to reveal that she has been granted legal aid because of her treatment at the hands of other orders of nuns who were caring for her.

"Kim" - not her real name - claims she was handed over by Sunderland Social Services aged three and "converted" from a Protestant to a Catholic. She plans to sue the councils in whose care she was at different intervals. She also plans to take legal action against the Catholic children's charity, St Cuthbert's Care, formerly Catholic Care North East and the Catholic Rescue Society.

Her solicitor Paul Middleton is representing another former resident of a Catholic children's home who has made similar allegations. He is also suing on behalf of 40 other former residents of residential council care homes.

Mr Austin Donahue of St Cuthbert's Care said: "If anyone previously in our care - or indeed anyone else's - feels they have been maltreated then we would be willing to see them to discuss the matter thoroughly. We would investigate any allegations fully and quickly and tell them the results and, in many cases, we would be willing to offer help such as counselling if appropriate."

A spokeswoman for Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council said: "In view of the proposed legal action, the council feels it would be inappropriate to comment on any such allegations at this stage". Gateshead Council, in common with other local authorities, still refers clients to St Cuthbert's Care.

A spokesman for Sunderland Council said: "We are unclear as to the precise nature of this person's complaint and in any case it would be against our policy to answer questions about individual cases.

"It is widely known and accepted that there are fewer children in the care of local authorities these days, with most being cared for in foster homes or small children's homes. They are monitored to a greater degree than they might have been in the past".