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Sandy Bremner reports
"The decision met with an angry reaction outside the court"
 real 56k

Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Cruelty nun walks free
Sister Marie Docherty leaves court
Sister Marie Docherty leaves court
A nun found guilty of four charges of cruelty against young girls at children's homes in Scotland has walked free from court after being admonished.

Marie Docherty, 58, also known as Sister Alphonso, stood passively in the dock at Aberdeen Sheriff Court as the sentence was handed down.

The sentence shocked women who gave evidence against the nun during the trial, some of whom wept as they left court.

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

Victim Jeanette Adams
The nun, who committed the crimes in the 1960s and 1970s while working at Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Midlothian, was found guilty of four charges earlier this month.

Sheriff Colin Harris deferred sentence pending reports on her medical condition.

When the nun appeared in court on Thursday, Sheriff Harris told Sister Marie he would have considered another sentence but had taken into account a plea in mitigation, her age and medical condition.

He also said a sentence of community service would not have been appropriate.

The nun originally faced 23 charges but was found guilty of four at the end of her six-week trial.

Sheriff Colin Harris
Sheriff Colin Harris: Ruled out prison
Outside court, her solicitor said: "Sister Marie has been cleared of allegations of systematic child abuse made against her by the prosecution.

"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.

"Over a period of 40 years Sister Marie has provided outstanding care for countless children and old people.

"Had it not been for this prosecution Sister Marie 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."

'Disgusted' reaction

But some of the nun's accusers expressed anger and disappointment.

A tearful Jeanette Adams, 41, whom the nun had been found guilty of hitting with a hairbrush and force-feeding, said: "I am disgusted. I am really totally disgusted by this.

"She could not care years ago when we were there. When I met Sister Alphonso I lost my faith in the church."

Mrs Adams said that, unlike other victims and alleged victims, she was not seeking compensation and added: "All we asked for was just for her to admit what she had done."

Agnes Fowler
Agnes Fowler: "It's a damn disgrace"
Agnes Fowler, 45, who told the court the nun's treatment prompted her two suicide attempts, said: "I think it is a damn disgrace because if that had been anyone else they would have got a custodial sentence straight away.

"She could even have got a suspended sentence. Admonishing her is calling us all liars."

Mrs Fowler said she feared the sentence would make more children afraid of speaking out.

She said: "It is going to stop children from saying `This is what happened to me'.

"She has put us through the same hell she put us through when we were kids."

Bishop's statement

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen, Mario Conti, expressed sorrow for any actions which had left a mark on the lives of vulnerable individuals.

But he said he could confidently restate that cruel and unnatural treatment did not form part of any official policy of discipline promoted or accepted by the Sisters of Nazareth or the church then or now.

He went on to refer to how child discipline practices had changed drastically over the last 30 years and that some practices which rightly today seemed excessive and even cruel would not necessarily have been viewed in this light many years ago.

The bishop went on: "Nevertheless some actions are always wrong and we would be very sorry if even one had left its mark on the lives of vulnerable individuals, and had affected their sense of personal worth."

He also said the convictions did not invalidate the great good that was done by the Sisters of Nazareth, including the convicted nun, in caring competently and appropriately for many thousands of children over the last hundred years.

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