Sunday, April 03, 2016

Nun who was falsely accused of sexual assault by two women aims to become 'the voice for the voiceless' following the  bungled London police inquiry into historic abuse

A nun who had allegations of historical sexual abuse made against her by two women wants to become a 'voice for the voiceless' after a police probe left her in limbo.

Sister Frances Dominica, who was awarded an OBE for her hospice work, never went to trial and so was never able to fully clear her name of the accusations.

A police investigation found that there was insufficient evidence against her, but the allegations proved enough for the Society of All Saints Sisters of the Poor (ASSP) to launch their own probe to assess how much - if any - a risk the Anglican nun posed.

The nun was then instructed to stay away from the twin Oxford care centres - Helen House and Douglas House - she had founded and dedicated her life to for more than 30 years.

'I think, without meaning to be arrogant, I think I want to be a voice for the voiceless,' Sister Frances told The Guardian. 'Because I have been... I was going to say I have been a victim.'

Sister Frances has joined a growing list of people accused of historic sex abuse, never able to clear their name in front of a jury but who have a lingering sense of doubt over their names.

Following last month's collapse of the Metropolitan police's Operation Midland, former MP Harvey Proctor, DJ Paul Gambaccini, former armed forces chief Lord Bramall and TV personalities Jim Davidson, Freddie Starr and Jimmy Tarbuck are all also on the list.

'In this country you are supposed to be innocent until you are proven guilty, but in any kind of safeguarding issue, it feels as if you are guilty until proven innocent,' she continued.

Sister Frances' name was only made public two years after the original accusations were made, after it was leaked to the Daily Telegraph in 2015.

She joins Gambaccini, among others, in calling for a change of the law, to ensure that the names of those accused of sexual abuse are kept under wraps until they are proved to be guilty. It is only after the trial, and after the person has been proven guilty, she argues, that the name should be made public. 'Ninety per cent of the time, though, I think we should have anonymity just as the alleged victims have anonymity,' she said.  

‘I suppose I just have to carry on, knowing in my heart that I am innocent and doing my best.’

Although she has been excluded from Helen House and Douglas House, Sister Frances has been given the 'full support' of another charity of which she is a patron, Sebastian's Action Trust.  It said it had found 'absolutely no reason to exclude Sister Frances from our activities'.

Following the investigation, in July 2015, trustees of the hospices said in a joint statement: 'The Trustees of Helen and Douglas House decided to implement the recommendations of an independent risk assessment report, after careful discussion and analysis.

'We wish to reiterate that no allegations contained within the report relate in any way to activity at Helen and Douglas House and that, as soon as the allegations were raised in July 2013, Sister Frances agreed at our request to step away from all activity at Helen and Douglas House.

'We have written to families informing them of our decision and will now continue to focus on what is and has always been our priority: providing the specialist care and support to children, young adults and their families.'

The 73-year-old Inverness born pioneer's hospice work has earned her a number of prestigious accolades, including becoming an honorary fellow of two royal colleges, patron of several charities and Deputy Lieutenant of her home county of Oxfordshire.

She trained as a nurse before joining a convent in the 1960s, going on to be made Mother Superior in Oxford. Her children's hospice innovation came after her own harrowing experience caring for the family of a sick child, and saw her being voted Britain's 2007 Woman of the Year.

Sister Jean Raphael, leader of Sister Frances's order, said last year: 'An independent risk assessment has recently been completed and the conclusions are being considered carefully by the Sisters.  'The Sisters take the issue of safeguarding very seriously.'

According to Sister Frances' solicitor Lee Fisher, his client 'wholly refuted' the allegations made against her.  He said: 'She is confident that she will be able to continue her duties there at the conclusion of this matter.'

Original report here

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