Nun found guilty of child cruelty charges

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A 58-year-old nun has been found guilty of four charges of cruelty against children in her care.

A 58-year-old nun has been found guilty of four charges of cruelty against children in her care.

Marie Docherty, also knows as Sister Alphonso, sat motionless in the dock with her head bowed as the jury returned majority verdicts on all charges after the 26 day trial.

Three other charges were found not proven by the nine woman and six man jury, which deliberated for nine and a half hours at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

The charges related to her work in Nazareth House children's homes in Aberdeen and Midlothian between 1965 and 1980.

Sheriff Colin Harris adjourned the court for 10 minutes after the verdicts.

Yesterday the jury was directed to find her not guilty of 14 similar charges due to insufficient evidence.

Earlier in the trial two other charges were dropped.

Docherty was found guilty of cruel and unnatural treatment of Patricia O'Brien, who was struck against a radiator and punched and slapped repeatedly.

She was also found guilty of the same charge relating to Helen Cusiter, now 43, who was force fed and hit with a hair brush.

A charge of cruel and unnatural treatment of Jeanette Adams, who was also hit with a hair brush and force fed, was also upheld by the jury.

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

One nun in the court's public gallery wept quietly and clutched rosary beads as the verdict was delivered.

When Mrs Cusiter stepped inside the home that had been the scene of her worst nightmares as a youngster years later, little did she know she would come face to face with her childhood tormentor.

The mother-of-two went back to Nazareth House in the early 1990s to visit a friend who had taken a job there.

But a chance encounter in the corridors of the Aberdeen children's home launched a chain of events which culminated in the five-week-trial which ended today in a guilty verdict for Docherty.

When Mrs Cusiter returned to Nazareth House in 1992, the last person she expected or hoped to see was Docherty - known as Sister Alphonso - a woman she had not seen for more than 20 years.

For Mrs Cusiter the meeting brought flashbacks of her days at the home

For Docherty it signalled the start of a process which culminated in today's guilty verdict.

When she saw Docherty, immediately the years of childhood terror came flooding back, particularly when the two started speaking.

"She started going on about did I remember my childhood and I told her that I did," said Mrs Cusiter.

"Then she went on to say that she was young and just following orders, but didn't go into any great detail and she didn't apologise.

"I couldn't wait to get out, and when I did get out I started having flashbacks - it was the thought of her being in Aberdeen."

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

Eventually her problems increased to such a level that she was unable to work and she gave up her job as a care assistant.

"I just took really ill and wasn't with it for a few years."

Mrs Cusiter said she eventually plucked up the courage to see a solicitor, adding: "I just got to the point where it was either me or her. I was sick of being the way I was."

After visiting the lawyer she went to the police.

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

"As time went on I realised other people had been suffering in silence as well and not knowing where to go," said Mrs Cusiter.

"They were relieved to get it off their chests. At last somebody had done something."

For years, she said, she had tried to tell people, convinced no one would believe her because she was accusing the nun of abuse.

She 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."

Mrs Cusiter, who lived at Nazareth House in Aberdeen from 1967 to 1971, between the ages of 10 and 14, said the worst thing Sister Alphonso did to her physically was to push her off a swing, causing her head to hit a wall and smashing four of her front teeth.

She said she was made to wait a few days for the swelling to go down before being taken to a dentist for treatment and was told to say she had tripped and fallen if anyone asked about the injury.

"When it happened it was no big deal at all to her," she said.

Her memories are full of being force-fed food she really hated as a child - of Docherty pushing steak and kidney pie and tapioca pudding into her mouth, leaving her with a life-long phobia about food.

"That was so degrading, really terrible, so disgusting," said Mrs Cusiter. "I have got a phobia about food really. I always think it put me off eating a lot of foods."

Mrs Cusiter said one of Docherty's favourites was lifting the hem of her habit and forcing children to kiss her feet to get permission to go swimming.

"She loved that bit", she added.

And Docherty was not the only one to hit people, Mrs Cusiter said.

"But if the other nuns gave you a smack that is what it was, a smack, across the hand or backside.

"But what Alphonso did was really just beat you up like a man, like an attack.

"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."

Mrs Cusiter said that now, even as an adult, she would not like to be in a room with Docherty on her own.

She said: "All I ever see flash in front of my face at times is her knuckles, because she was so skinny, she has always been skinny like she is now.

"The knuckles got you on the head, it was torture, and that's what I always see is her bony knuckles."

She doubted that the nun regretted any of the things she put the children through, she said, adding: "I don't know how she can stand in that dock and be so calm.

"I still think she hasn't got a conscience actually. No conscience at all."