THE controversy over allegations of systematic child abuse at Catholic-run children’s homes in Scotland erupted again yesterday, hours before the Most Rev Mario Conti was installed as the Archbishop of Glasgow and leader of Scotland’s Catholic community.
The devastated family of a dying man, who set himself ablaze after being refused treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Aberdeen, claimed their brother’s disturbed life was a legacy of the abuse he suffered at a children’s home in the city which was run by nuns, and at the hands of monks at another care home in Glasgow.
They are now calling for a public inquiry into why the care system in Scotland has done nothing to help him.
Colin Sutherland, 43, who has a history of psychiatric problems, was clinging to life in a specialist burns unit at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary last night after he doused his body with a flammable liquid and set himself on fire before patients and staff at a medical practice in Aberdeen on Wednesday morning.
His family claimed yesterday that the bizarre act was a cry for help after Mr Sutherland had been refused treatment, despite repeated appeals, at the Royal Cornhill Hospital, the north-east’s main psychiatric unit.
One of his sisters, Magdalene Crocker, said her brother’s illness, manifested in years of depression, could be traced to the sexual and physical abuse he allegedly suffered at the Nazareth House children’s home in Aberdeen and the St Ninian’s Home in Glasgow.
Two years ago, Mrs Crocker was one of the main prosecution witnesses at the trial of Sister Alphonso, the Catholic nun convicted of four charges of abusing young girls in her care at Nazareth House and another children’s home in Lasswade.
Archbishop Conti, who was then Bishop of Aberdeen, was criticised for the remarks he made at the conclusion of the trial , claiming: "Some practices which today seem excessive and even cruel, would not have been viewed in this light years ago".
Earlier this month, he sparked further controversy when he argued Sister Alphonso’s conviction had been a miscarriage of justice.
He said: "I think she was treated harshly. Some of the allegations were shocking and some were so absurd as to be unbelievable."
Mrs Crocker, however, said last night that she was convinced her brother’s illness stemmed from the abuse he suffered during the eight years he spent in care as a child.
"Colin had his own story to tell," she said. "What happened haunted him and led to the mental problems he had. It all stemmed from the abuse he suffered."
Mrs Crocker claimed: "He was sexually and physically abused by a male care worker at Nazareth House, and abused again when he was transferred to the monks at St Ninian’s in Glasgow."
She explained that her brother had been in and out of institutions for long periods of his adult life and had also had spent various spells in prison. As his mental health deteriorated, his behaviour had become more erratic. His state of depression had become more acute after his mother died at New Year. On his way home from his mother’s funeral, he jumped out of his brother’s car on a busy motorway and threw himself into the path of the oncoming traffic.
"He was struggling to cope," said Mrs Crocker. "He was completely broken.
"Over a week ago he referred himself to Cornhill and that is where it all went wrong. He asked for help and he really tried hard, but apparently there was some trouble in which he was involved and he was discharged.
" Cornhill told me that Colin didn’t really fit the criteria under the Mental Health Act and that he had a personality disorder. Colin then ended up in police custody, doped up to the eyeballs, but was sent back out after they dropped the charges."
Mrs Crocker added: "What he did this week was a cry for help. He obviously saw no way to turn but the people at Cornhill had him their in their hands and they had the power to keep him. They could have treated him but he didn’t even last a week. They just threw him out. But they must have known he was a risk to himself and the public. The whole system has let him down and the family want a public inquiry into why that happened."
Mr Sutherland’s brother, John, a painter and decorator in Inverness, said: "Colin wanted to be locked up in a secure place and treated because he knew he could be a risk. The system had let him down - he just couldn’t cope."
Grampian Primary Care NHS Trust, which operates Royal Cornhill, is to bring in independent experts to review their handling of Mr Sutherland's case and to send a report to the Mental Welfare Commission.
CRUELTY EXPOSED: SISTER ALPHONSO’S CRIMES DENTED IMAGE OF ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
THE image of a Roman Catholic nun as a caring bride of Christ was blown apart two years ago with the conviction of Sister Alphonso for abusing four children in her care during a 15-year reign of terror at two Catholic-run children’s homes in Scotland.
She was exposed as an evil sadist who used her position to abuse, brutalise and humiliate countless children whose lives she controlled at Nazareth House homes in Aberdeen and Lasswade.
Sister Alphonso was accused of forcing girls to kiss a dead nun, making them wear soiled underwear and pushing an epileptic girl into a cold bath when she was having a fit. Her trial at Aberdeen Sheriff Court in September, 2000, also heard allegations that the nun had force-fed a child with her own vomit, slapped a child on the face, struck another on the head with a book and forced a soapy finger and spoonfuls of food into the mouths of terrified children.
Two of her accusers were Colin Sutherland’s sisters, Magdalene Crocker and Catherine Annaaomaoui, but Sister Alphonso was formally acquitted of the charges in which they featured.
The nun, a member of the Order of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, had been charged under her real name, Marie Theresa Docherty.
Sister Alphonso, who had originally faced 23 charges , was convicted by majority verdicts on four charges of cruelly and unnaturally treating girls in her care to their injury. Three other charges were found not proven and she was acquitted of the other 16 charges on the direction of Sheriff Colin Harris.
The nun, however, escaped with an admonishment by Sheriff Harris, who caused a public outcry when he ruled that she should not go to prison because of the state of her health, her lack of previous convictions and the length of time which had passed since the crimes, which had been committed between 1965 and 1980.
During the trial, one of Sister Alphonso’s alleged victims told of her anger when she approached the Rt Rev Mario Conti, who was at that time the Bishop of Aberdeen and Orkney, asking for his help.
She claimed the man since chosen to be new leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland had told her: "We are an autonomous organisation and we are accountable to nobody."
At the conclusion of the trial, Bishop Conti issued a statement claiming the prosecution had failed to establish that Sister Alphonso had been guilty of systematic child abuse.
The bishop said: " Some practices which today seem excessive and even cruel, would not have been viewed in this light years ago.
"These convictions do not, moreover, invalidate the great good which was done by the Sisters of Nazareth, including Sister Marie [Alphonso], in caring competently and appropriately for many thousands of children over the last 100 years."
The same day, Father Danny McLaughlin, an official spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, issued a statement in which he spoke of the Church’s deep shame at Sister Alphonso’s conviction.
He said: "While legally this case is a matter for the Sisters of Nazareth, as a Church we are deeply ashamed that anyone entering into the Church’s care could have suffered in any way.
"Our primary concern is the protection of children, and over recent years we have put in place child protection guidelines to ensure any child in our care will not be harmed in any way."