Aged nun escapes abuse prosecution

The Scotsman/November 10, 2002
By Claire Gardner

A nun accused of sexual and physical abuse at a Scottish children's home has escaped prosecution because she is too old, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

Prosecutors have decided that Sister Kevin, formerly a nun at Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, who is in her eighties, is too infirm to stand trial.

Her alleged victim, Helen Holland, who claims she was sexually assaulted by Sister Kevin with a handbrush and whipped with a bamboo cane, last night reacted angrily to the Crown Office decision.

Holland, 44, who has waived her right to anonymity, went to police over the sexual abuse she says she suffered between the ages of eight and 11.

Following a three-year investigation, Holland was recently told by Crown Office lawyers that, despite 30 witnesses prepared to give evidence against Sister Kevin, the case would not go ahead.

She said: "The Procurator Fiscal told me that because of her age, her infirmity, and the length of time that has passed, there will be no proceedings."

In her report to police, Holland alleged that Sister Kevin, who now lives in Ireland and denies the allegations, put her in an industrial tumble dryer and switched it on, as well as tying her to the metal railings of a fire exit during a lightning storm.

Holland's MSP Jackie Baillie called for an inquiry into the case. She said: "I am not happy that the case is not being proceeded with. I have written as a matter of urgency to the Lord Advocate seeking a meeting to explore the matter further."

The director of the Victims of Crime Trust, Norman Brennan, said the criminal justice system had failed the alleged victim. He said: "People seem to be able to get off for all sorts of excuses and it's a sad and wicked shame that people use the excuse of ill health or age to escape justice.

"The victim has been left devastated and yet the nun facing allegations has been left in peace to lead a normal life."

A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said: "It's often a difficult enough decision for them to decide to go through with the whole thing, only to be let down by the system."

Elaine Samson, chief executive of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), an organisation which works with young women, said the criminal justice system needed to look at how it dealt with these sorts of cases.

"When a young girl has been sexually or physically abused then very often they cannot report it at the time because they are often not believed, and it leaves a considerable time gap between the abuse and the reporting of it."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "What needs to be looked at is how long ago did this alleged abuse take place and what sort of gap was left between the alleged incident and the reporting of it.

"It would be different if it was a very recent case coming to light."

He added: "Nazareth House act independently from the Catholic Church in Scotland. The only contact we have with them is if they decide to set up an establishment somewhere in Scotland. They ask permission from the Bishop as a sort of courtesy.

"They are a worldwide organisation, so it would be very difficult to control them."

He added: "If this case is not coming to court then the alleged victim does have other avenues open to her, such as bringing a private prosecution forward.

"Just because the Procurator Fiscal has decided not to proceed does not mean a case has to end there."

Last night, Sister Kevin denied the claims.

"Oh blessed God, no," she said when asked if she could say anything about the allegations against her. "I never abused any child."

A spokesman for the Crown Office declined to comment except to say proceedings were not active.

Nazareth House in Kilmarnock is not the only institution run by the Order of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth to be rocked by allegations of abuse.

In October 2000, Sister Alphonso, who was based at Nazareth House in Aberdeen, was found guilty on four counts of cruelty to children in her care, over 35 years.

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