Nuns face hundreds of cruelty claims

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An order of nuns is facing hundreds of compensation claims by people who claim they were abused while in its care as children.

An order of nuns is facing hundreds of compensation claims by people who claim they were abused while in its care as children.

Payouts could run into millions of pounds if the 420 cruelty claims against the Poor Sisters of Nazareth are successful.

The order runs homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade, Midlothian.

One of its members, Marie Docherty, also known as Sister Alphonse, was convicted last month of four charges of cruel and unnatural treatment against youngsters in her care.

All cases have been formally lodged at the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh.

Abuse against the 420 men and women is alleged to have happened from the 1940 to the 1970s.

Eleven are being taken forward to full hearings starting next year, which will act as test cases.

Lawyer Cameron Fyfe, who is representing the claimants, said: "We will be asking the court to freeze the other cases until the first 11 are dealt with.

"The first hurdle is to argue that the cases are not time barred - submitted too late for the court to deal with.

"If we are successful, the whole cases will be heard.

"The 11 cases are not necessarily the strongest, but represent a spread of allegations across the 1940s to the 1970s and at the different homes."

Mr Fyfe said if the test cases succeed, he would expect the order to offer settlements to the remaining 409 people who are planning to sue.

But he added: "If they do not we will proceed with each one individually."

And he said individual nuns and some local authorities are also being sued.

"In some cases we are pursuing individually named nuns," he said.

"Councils have also been named if they put a child in one of the homes and then failed to supervise their care properly."

Docherty originally faced 23 charges at the start of the five week trial but was eventually convicted of four.

She was later admonished by Sheriff Colin Harris, the equivalent of absolute discharge in England and Wales, meaning she will face no punishment other than her criminal record.

The sheriff told Docherty her medical condition - she has a heart problem - her life of service and the fact she was a first offender had kept her from jail.

The nun is currently suspended from her job as a care assistant for the elderly at Nazareth House in Aberdeen.