Victims Throw Coins as Cruelty Nun Walks Free

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A NUN convicted of cruelty to young girls in her care at a Roman Catholic children's home was admonished for her crimes yesterday but given no custodial sentence.

Sister Alphonso, 57, was spat on as she left Aberdeen Sheriff Court to shouts of "Rot in Hell" and a hail of coins from her victims. Sheriff Colin Harris said she would have been jailed if it had not been for her poor health, length of time since the offences were committed, the fact that she was a first time offender and a reduction in charges throughout the case.

Because she had taken a vow of poverty when she joined the order at the age of 18, a fine would not be appropriate and neither would community service. Sister Alphonso, whose real name is Marie Docherty, was found guilty of four charges of cruel and unnatural treatment towards children at Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade, Midlothian.

She had originally faced 23 charges relating to a period between 1965 and 1980 but they were reduced to seven counts during the 26-day trial. After almost 10 hours of deliberation, the jury found her guilty of four charges while three were found not proven. As the Sheriff passed sentence, Sister Alphonso mouthed a silent thank you as she left court.

Jeanette Adams, 41, who the nun hit with a hairbrush, said: "She has been treated specially because she is a nun. The sheriff should have given her a box of chocolates and a pat on the back. We are still the same battered children and have been left battered again. I am disgusted. It's been a waste of time."

Sister Alphonso was also convicted of force-feeding Helen Cusiter, now 43, pushing her from a swing and knocking her to the ground, which caused her teeth to break, dragging Patricia Milne, 44, into a corridor and smashing her into a radiator and hitting and force-feeding sweets to Grace Montgomery, 37.

Mrs Cusiter, a mother of two, who lived at Nazareth House in Aberdeen between the ages of 10 and 14, said: "The sentence is despicable after what she did to us. You might as well hold up a banner and say it is okay to beat your children."

Sentencing had been deferred for 10 days for medical reports on Sister Alphonso, who suffers from a heart condition. Sheriff Harris told her: "I have concluded that a term of imprisonment would not be an appropriate disposal. But for your age, state of health and lack of any convictions and time that has passed, I would have been minded to impose a term of imprisonment."

Outside the court Jim Hay, her lawyer, claimed that Sister Alphonso, who prefers to be known as Sister Marie, was an exemplary character. The Roman Catholic Church in Scotland could face having to pay out up to £8 million in compensation as more than 400 people, the majority who are former residents of Nazareth House homes, make civil claims for the treatment they claim they received.

Bishop Mario Conti, bishop for Aberdeen, said: "We can confidently restate that cruel and unnatural treatment did not form part of any official policy promoted or accepted by the Sisters or the Church, then or now. Nevertheless some actions are always wrong and we would be very sorry if even one left its mark on the lives of vulnerable individuals and had affected their sense of personal worth."

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