Nun convicted of cruelty to young girls

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The Independent Online

A nun was convicted yesterday of abusing and cruelly treating four girls in her care at a children's home.

A nun was convicted yesterday of abusing and cruelly treating four girls in her care at a children's home.

Sister Alphonso, 58, whose real name is Marie Docherty, sat motionless in the dock with her head bowed as the jury returned the four majority verdicts on charges of cruelty and unnatural treatment against girls as young as eight.

All the charges related to the nun's time at Nazareth House children's homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade in Midlothian between 1965 and 1980. Lawyers said the verdicts could open the way for further compensation claims against the order. Hundreds of other former residents have already come forward.

The nun, who wore a blue habit at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, was convicted of striking one girl, Patricia O'Brien, against a radiator and of repeatedly punching and slapping her. She was also found guilty of force-feeding Helen Cusiter, and hitting her with a hair brush. The same treatment was meted out to Jeanette Adams, the jury decided.

Docherty was found guilty of the same charge against Grace Montgomery, who was force- fed sweets and had soiled underwear thrown at her.

Members of the nun's order, the Roman Catholic Congregation of Poor Sisters of Nazareth, who had been in court throughout the 26-day trial, wept after the verdicts were delivered. Docherty will be sentenced on 28 September after reports on her medical condition are completed. She collapsed earlier in the trial and was found to be suffering from a heart condition.

One of the abused girls, Helen Cusiter, now 43, who was at the home in Aberdeen from 1967 to 1971 when she was aged 10 to 14 , later spoke of the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of Docherty.

She said the worst thing the nun did to her physically was to push her off a swing, smashing four of her front teeth.

Her memories are of being force-fed - of Docherty pushing steak and kidney pie and tapioca pudding into her mouth, leaving her with a life-long phobia. "That was so degrading, really terrible, so disgusting," Mrs Cusiter said. "I have got a phobia about food really."

Mrs Cusiter said that Docherty would often lift the hem of her habit and force children to kiss her feet to get permission to go swimming.

She continued: "What Alphonso did was really just beat you up like a man ... it wasn't just a smack. She always went that bit further. She went the whole road. Alphonso was like a tiger to a bone, she just didn't let go."

The former resident went to Nazareth House in 1992, 10 years after it had become an old people's home, to visit a friend who had taken a job there.

A chance meeting in the corridors of the former children's home with Sister Alphonso, who had joined the order at the age of 18, triggered flashbacks of Mrs Cusiter's days at the home.

After the encounter, Mrs Cusiter says she suffered from anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and severe clinical depression. Eventually she went to Grampian Police.

That prompted a formal investigation and other former residents who claimed to have suffered at Docherty's hands became involved.

Mrs Cusiter said: "Various people over the years tried to tell other people, but because they were nuns everyone would think we were absolutely off our heads, accusing a nun of this."

The victims now intend to sue the Poor Sisters of Nazareth for compensation.