British nurses spared beheading

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The Independent Online
The threat of public beheading has been finally lifted from both British nurses accused of murder in Saudi Arabia. After seven weeks of legal wrangling, the brother of the alleged victim will now be paid pounds 730,000 in "blood money". The women could be home before the millennium.

Frank Gilford, brother of the dead nurse Yvonne Gilford, was accused of piling on the agony yesterday after his lawyers went right to the deadline for filing a petition to waive the death penalty for Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan. Mr Gilford had until today to submit his waiver to the Saudi Sharia court, and he waited until the last possible moment to do it.

Inside Dammam Central Prison, Ms Parry, 38, will have heaved the greatest sigh of relief because she has still to hear the verdict against her. But now she knows that a public beheading cannot take place. Ms McLauchlan has already been sentenced to eight years in prison and 500 lashes.

Mr Gilford, 59, agreed to the waiver weeks ago in return for $1.2m (pounds 730,000), most of which will pay for a hospital facility in his sister's name. She was stabbed, beaten and suffocated in her room at the King Fahd Military Medical Centre in Dhahran last December. Ms Parry and Ms McLauchlan deny killing her, arguing that confessions - which form the mainstay of the prosecution evidence - were extracted under the threat of sexual and physical violence.

Mr Gilford's lawyers had promised to lodge the waiver twice before - on 22 October and 10 November - but each time they pulled back after disputes with the nurse's Saudi lawyer, Salah Hejailan. Both sides blamed each other for the time taken to finalise the process but Jonathan Ashbee, Ms Parry's brother in law, said: "The deadline was 17 October; I don't think it's any coincidence that he left it until 16 October to lodge the waiver with the court.

"I think he had a fear that the girls would be let off lightly, so he wanted to pile on the agony as long as he could. The pressure on them has been enormous, particularly for Debbie not knowing the verdict against her. The most important thing now is that we clear their names - they are innocent, so even one day in jail is one too many."

Informed legal sources in Saudi Arabia believe the Appeal Court could reduce Ms McLauchlan's sentence to three years and expect Ms Parry to be given no more than four years. It is expected that neither woman will now face the lash and both could be sent home to complete their sentences in England, possibly being free by 2000.

Mr Gilford is expected to receive his money within days. He says he will take only about pounds 50,000 after expenses.