Nun freed despite years of cruelty to children

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The Independent Online

A nun who was found guilty of repeated acts of cruelty against children in her care walked free from court yesterday after being admonished for her crimes. Several victims of Marie Docherty, also known as Sister Alphonso, reacted with disbelief and anger at the scale of the punishment.

A nun who was found guilty of repeated acts of cruelty against children in her care walked free from court yesterday after being admonished for her crimes. Several victims of Marie Docherty, also known as Sister Alphonso, reacted with disbelief and anger at the scale of the punishment.

Docherty, 58, was found guilty last week of four counts of slapping, force-feeding and throwing dirty underwear at vulnerable youngsters in Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade, Midlothian, in the 1960s and 1970s.

The charges included forcing a chocolate bar down a child's throat and pushing a girl into a radiator at the former children's homes run by the Roman Catholic Church.

At Aberdeen Sheriff Court, Sheriff Colin Harris told the nun the only appropriate sentence was to admonish her on each of the four charges. The sentence means she will receive no further punishment beyond having a criminal record.

Jeanette Adams, 41 - Docherty was found guilty of hitting her with a hairbrush and force-feeding her - said: "I am really disgusted by this. She is going back to work with old people... She could not care years ago when we were there."

Agnes Fowler, who claimed to have been a victim of the nun, said: "I think it is a damn disgrace, because if that had been anyone else they would have got a custodial sentence straight away. Admonishing her is calling us all liars." Mrs Fowler said she feared the sentence would deter abused children from speaking out.

Dozens of other alleged victims had come forward since the conviction. At the start of the five-week trial the nun faced 23 charges of cruel and unnatural treatment against the children, but two were dropped during the trial, the jury were directed to acquit her of 14, and three were not proven.

Sentencing Docherty, Sheriff Harris said the fact that the nun was a young woman when the offences were committed and that she was a first offender, and her health and life of service, had prevented him from jailing her. He said a sentence of community service or a fine would have been inappropriate. "In due weight of the mitigating factors I have before me today, I can deal with sentence today and I can admonish you of each of these four charges."

After the case Docherty's solicitor, Jim Hay, made a statement on her behalf. "Had it not been for this prosecution Sister Marie [Docherty] would have continued her life of service to the elderly, the sick and the dying. Sister Marie has been of exemplary character and the sentence of the court amply reflects this," he said.

The court had listened to 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.

She was found guilty of hitting Ms Adams with a hairbrush and force-feeding her. Patricia O'Brien, 44, was punched and slapped and on one occasion pushed against a radiator.

Docherty was also found guilty of throwing dirty underwear at Grace Montgomery, 37, and force-feeding her sweets.

The nun left court in silence with her head bowed and was driven away in a car. One of her victims shouted out: "I hope you rot in hell."

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