A nun who denied slapping and force-feeding vulnerable children in her care at a trial nearly 20 years ago has dramatically admitted her guilt for the first time.
Marie Docherty, who was convicted of four charges of child cruelty in 2000, escaped with an admonishment after a trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court.
On Tuesday, the 77-year-old, also known as Sister Alphonso, admitted to the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) in Edinburgh that she had carried out a catalogue of child abuse at Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade, Midlothian in the 1960s and 1970s.
The details of the nun's identity and convictions can be revealed after SCAI chairman Lady Smith lifted a restriction order banning their release.
Softly-spoken Docherty, who wept as she gave evidence, also conceded she may have caused extra pain for her victims by taking 18 years to admit her guilt.
At her trial in 2000, the nun was found guilty of slapping and force-feeding a girl at the Aberdeen home. The victim told the court that Docherty would tell the terrified children: 'Shut your mouth, don't say nothing.'
She was also convicted of punching and slapping another girl and on one occasion pushing her against a radiator, and of throwing dirty underwear at a third girl and force-feeding her sweets.
The sentence handed down by the court meant Docherty did not receive any punishment – except acquiring a criminal record
At the hearing on Tuesday, the nun, using the pseudonym Sister Anne, said she did not at the time see what she had done as force-feeding and had simply been 'encouraging [children] to eat'.
In a statement given to the SCAI, she said she was prepared to 'acknowledge and accept' she was responsible for the abuse, and had 'thought deep and hard' about her actions which had led to children being 'mistreated'.
Docherty added: 'This is a matter of great regret; it troubles me significantly… and I'm truly sorry and apologise for the hurt I have caused to the persons I have affected.'
The inquiry heard that a child at the home was forced to eat dolly mixtures as a punishment after sweets had gone missing – one of the incidents which led to Docherty's conviction.
On Tuesday, she said: 'I always had dolly mixtures for the little ones. I went to get them and they were missing. I just had a few, there wasn't enough. I said, 'You might as well take the rest' and put them into her mouth.'
Senior counsel to the inquiry Colin MacAulay, QC, asked Docherty: 'Having waited so long to come forward, that might have caused more damage to survivors?' The nun admitted: 'It could have.'
The inquiry heard last year that the Sisters of Nazareth are facing more than 400 allegations of abuse. Sister Anna Maria Doolan, regional superior of the order, said in June they were 'very sorry' for any child who suffered abuse.
Meanwhile, another nun told the inquiry yesterday that she may have lost her temper with children in her care but rejected suggestions she was 'hard as nails'.
The woman, now in her mid-70s and using the pseudonym Sister Zara, denied that youngsters would have been scared of her but agreed there was 'probably' a strict regime at Nazareth House in Aberdeen.
Mr MacAulay told the nun about evidence from a witness who said she 'was hard as nails and we were scared of her but at times she was all right'. Asked if she agreed with that assessment, the sister replied: 'Not really.'
Sister Zara agreed with Mr MacAulay's summation that she had not witnessed any abusive practices in Aberdeen.
The inquiry continues.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.