Court comes to the aid of Saudi nurses

`We didn't have much choice, but to ask the Australians to help us'
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The Independent Online
Two British nurses accused of murder in Saudi Arabia heard yesterday that their chances of avoiding the death penalty had increased after an Australian court ruling.

The brother of murdered Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford has called for her British former colleagues, Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan, to be executed if they are convicted of the killing.

But there is intense dispute over whether Frank Gilford has the legal right to represent his family's wishes on the possible beheading of the accused.

Yesterday the South Australian State Supreme Court ordered him not to make further calls for the death penalty until his mother's mental state has been assessed.

Judge Len King said there were serious questions about the mental competency of Muriel Gilford, and ordered her son not to claim she backed the potential death penalty for her daughter's killers.

Under Saudi law, a call for the death penalty by a victim's family must be unanimous.

Michael Dark, representing Ms Parry, 41, and Ms McLauchlan, 31, welcomed the decision of the Adelaide court and said it is now up to the Saudi courts to decide what happens next.

"We were given until Sunday to produce evidence showing that Mrs Gilford is not mentally competent," he said.

"We asked Frank Gilford's lawyers if they would let us have any evidence to confirm that she is in a nursing home but they refused," he said. "We didn't have much choice but to ask the courts in Australia to help us, which they have done."

The lawyer said that Mr Gilford's mother, who is believed to suffer from Alzheimer's Disease, is not mentally competent to agree with her son's call for execution.

Speculating on what might happen when Saudi proceedings resume tomorrow at the sharia court, Mr Dark said: "The judge will either say there can be no unanimous decision made because Mrs Gilford is not competent.

"Or it might be decided that some sort of guardian should be appointed to make the decision on her behalf."

Michael Boylan, representing Frank and Muriel Gilford, said the Australian proceedings were an attempt to interfere in the trial and were an abuse of legal process.

He said Frank Gilford's comments had been made through his lawyers in Saudi Arabia and were outside the jurisdiction of the Australian court.

It is possible, though unlikely, that the case will finish this weekend.

No Westerner has been executed in Saudi Arabia although dozens of foreigners, mostly Asians convicted of drug smuggling, are executed in the kingdom every year.

The dead nurse's body was found in December in her room at the King Fahd Military Medical Complex, where the three worked.

Forensic reports showed that the victim had been stabbed 13 times, beaten and suffocated.