Nun on cruelty charges set free

 Sr Marie Docherty, who was found guilty of four charges of cruelty to children, walked free from court on Thursday. Sr Docherty, 58, also known as Sr Alphonso, was charged with the offences that took place during the 1960s and 70s at Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Midlothian. Sheriff Colin Harris had deferred the sentence to Thursday while waiting for reports on her medical condition. He said he would have considered another sentence but took into account a plea of mitigation, her age and health. The sister originally faced 23 charges but was cleared of 19 during the six-week court case. Outside the court her solicitor said: "Sr Marie has been cleared of allegations of systematic child abuse made 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 Sr Marie has provided outstanding care for countless children and old people. "Had it not been for this prosecution she would have continued her life of service to the elderly, the sick and the dying. "Sr Marie has been of exemplary character and the sentence of this court amply reflects this." Some of her accusers expressed anger and disappointment at the verdict. Agnes Fowler, 45, said the nun's treatment of her had driven her to two suicide attempts and it was a disgrace that she should be allowed to go free. The 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 then or now. He said child discipline practices had changed drastically over the last 30 years and that some practices which rightly today seem cruel and excessive might not have been viewed in that way then He said: "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. He also said the conviction did not invalidate the great good that was done by the Sisters of Nazareth, including Sr Marie, in caring competently and appropriately for many thousands of children over the last hundred years.

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