`Cautious optimism' over Saudi nurses

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The Independent Online
Representatives of the two British nurses accused of murdering a colleague in Saudi Arabia were cautiously hopeful this weekend that the two will be spared flogging or execution.

The first encouraging signs came from Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's meeting with his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud, in New York, after which Mr Cook pronounced himself more optimistic than before.

The British consul general in Saudi Arabia, William Patey, will today visit the two women in custody - where they first heard of their sentences on the radio - and brief them on that meeting and other Foreign Office efforts.

Meanwhile in Australia, Frank Gilford, brother of victim Yvonne, declared his opposition to the sentence of 500 lashes imposed on Lucille McLauchlan, 31. In a newspaper interview he said: "It's barbaric... I wouldn't have any part of it."

Mr Gilford insisted that if a sum of money - so-called "blood money" totalling pounds 750,000 - was paid to charity, for his legal costs and to compensate his family, and that if the Saudis guaranteed a jail sentence for Ms McLauchlan but no flogging, he would waive his right to demand the death penalty. However, in Saudi law blood money only relates to a death sentence. Reports that the second accused, Deborah Parry, 38, faces beheading have not been confirmed.

The growing optimism comes at the end of a week which has graphically illustrated the confusion and complexity of this clash of Western and Islamic cultures. Last week, documents were published appearing to show that a "blood money" deal had already been signed. Later, amid claim and counter-claim, it was said negotiations were still continuing. On Friday night, Mr Cook said: "My understanding is that there is no final settlement as yet." Sources say the deal was "all but done" before it was made public in Saudi Arabia.

The funding of any settlement is not a problem, with the British defence industry seemingly very willing to put up the pounds 750,000, anxious to defend its pounds 2bn annual trade with the kingdom.

The Foreign Office watchwords yesterday were "caution" and "quiet reflection", as the Saudi legal process had to run its course before the Saudi government could intervene. A statement from Prince Saud said: "Any form of intervention in the legal process would only lead to complicating the issue." But, significantly, he said he "appreciated the concern" in Britain.

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