Child cruelty nun goes free

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The Independent Online

A nun found guilty of cruelty to children has escaped being jailed.

A nun found guilty of cruelty to children has escaped being jailed.

Marie Docherty - also known as Sister Alphonso - sat in the dock at Aberdeen Sheriff Court with her head bowed and hands clasped in prayer as she was allowed her freedom.

She was convicted last week of slapping, force feeding and throwing dirty underwear at vulnerable youngsters in Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Midlothian during the 1960s and 1970s.

Sheriff Colin Harris told her: "Due consideration of the facts which are before me today I can deal with sentence and I can admonish you of each of these four charges.

"You are presently 58-years-old and suffer from a heart condition.

"Taking into account these factors I have concluded that a term of imprisonment would not have been appropriate disposal in your case".

Sheriff Harris' sentence means Docherty will receive no further punishment for her crimes beyond her criminal record.

But the ruling was met with shock by those formerly in her care.

Jeanette Adams, 41, who was hit with a hairbrush and force-fed by the nun, while living at Nazareth House in Aberdeen as a child, fought back tears outside court as she said: "I am disgusted."

"I am really disgusted by this. I cannot believe what the Sheriff said."

As she left the court, Docherty was greeted with calls of: "I hope you rot in hell."

Mrs Adams said the sentence meant Docherty could go back to caring for old people at the home in Aberdeen where the majority of the offences were committed - the others occurred at a home in Lasswade, Bonnyrigg, Midlothian.

And she added: "She could not care years ago when we were there. How can she care now?.

"When I met Sister Alphonso I lost my faith in the church."

At the start of the five-week trial the nun had faced 23 charges of cruel and unnatural treatment against the children, many from vulnerable backgrounds.

Docherty was accused of operating a regime of beatings and cruelty at the two homes.

But two charges had been dropped during the course of the five-week trial and the jury were directed to acquit her of a further fourteen.

After a day of deliberation they found her guilty of four reduced charges and not proven on three further counts.

The court had heard of a catalogue of abuse involving the nun. She was convicted of hitting Helen Cusiter, 43, with a fist or hairbrush and repeatedly force-feeding her at the Aberdeen home between 1966 and 1972.

Docherty was found guilty of throwing dirty underwear at Grace Montgomery, 37, and force-feeding her sweets at the home in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian.

She was also convicted of punching and slapping Patricia O'Brien, 44, between 1966 and 1972 and on one occasion pushing her against a radiator

She left the court in silence and in a statement her solicitor Jim Hay said she was of "exemplary character".

He said: "She has been convicted of a tiny fraction of the original charges by a majority verdict. These are not by any stretch of the imagination convictions for systematic child abuse.

"Had it not been for this prosecution Sister Marie would have continued her life in service to the elderly, the sick and the dying."

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

During the trial she had admitted often feeling guilty of some of her actions in Aberdeen but had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

"Looking back it seems so regimented but what else could you do in those days?" she told the court.