From a Saudi Arabian jail, the nurses speak

Letters by the two British nurses awaiting whippings and, for one, possible execution in Saudi Arabia, have been obtained by The Independent. In them they agree, very reluctantly, to the paying of blood money to avoid death. And secret correspondence, published here for the first time, proves a deal has already been done, despite denials from the murdered woman's brother, Frank Gilford.
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The tone is desperate and bitter. The letters, which will prevent the execution of Deborah Parry, were written in the miserable confines of Dammam central prison last Monday. They display not only a terrifying poignancy but also furious disgust over the prospect of Frank Gilford receiving $500,000 (pounds 295,000) blood money.

Writing the day before Lucille McLauchlan was sentenced to 500 lashes and eight years in jail, both women protest their innocence but reluctantly agree to a legally binding pact that will make execution impossible.

It is understood the money will mostly come from anonymous benefactors. The letters form their side of a $1.2m settlement with Mr Gilford, 59, whose lawyers yesterday continued to deny such a deal existed. The Independent has obtained correspondence from all sides which proves Mr Gilford has signed the deal. It is correspondence that shows him in a deeply unpleasant and mercenary light.

Each woman wrote on Monday to Sir Roger Carrick, the British High Commissioner in Australia. Sir Roger was holding both sides' agreements to the blood- money deal that would result in Mr Gilford waiving his right to call for execution.

Ms Parry, 38, who still awaits the Saudi court's verdict, wrote: "I am opposed to signing this settlement document, as I am totally innocent, and it is abhorrent to me to give so much money to someone in connection with a crime that I did not commit. But, in the circumstances, I have no choice but to sign, because the threat of the death penalty is too much for me to continue to bear."

Ms McLauchlan, 31, who was to learn her fate on Tuesday, wrote: "Although I am signing this document, I do so with great reluctance, and I sincerely hope that my signature will not be misinterpreted ... as an admission of guilt. I have no choice but to settle privately with Mr Gilford for money and, however distasteful, I am under enormous pressure to do so."

Despite Mr Gilford's insistence that he has not waived his rights and has still not made up his mind about the women's fate, a letter from his Australian solicitors, Boylan & Co, to Minter Ellison, lawyers for the nurses in Australia, would appear to contradict him. Dated last Friday, 19 September, it says: "We confirm that our client has executed the deed."

Word of his acceptance spread quickly. On Saturday, Andrew Green, the British ambassador in Saudi, wrote to Salah al-Hejailan, the nurses' lawyer in Saudi, to congratulate him for brokering the deal.

"I was delighted to learn on Friday that Frank Gilford has now signed a Deed of Settlement," wrote Mr Green. "I congratulate you most warmly on this achievement. It is a result of a great deal of hard work and of a strategy which obliged Gilford to negotiate. The practical effect, as I understand it, is that the two nurses no longer face the death penalty."

However, once Mr Hejailan made the deal public on Tuesday and pointed out that merely negotiating meant Mr Gilford could no longer call for the death penalty, Mr Gilford and his lawyers backtracked.

Mr Hejailan said Mr Gilford wanted $500,000 for himself and $700,000 towards a hospital in his sister's name.

Yesterday Mr Gilford's lawyers issued a statement saying Mr Hejailan had no involvement in any negotiations and that the nurses' families no longer viewed him as their representative, something the families later denied.

Mr Gilford's Australian lawyers continued to insist that he had not waived his rights. So did he. On Wednesday night, he took a drink at a bar near his home in Jamestown, South Australia. A Reuters reporter present said that each time Mr Hejailan appeared on the television, Mr Gilford wouldprotest: "Show me a document. Show me an agreement."

Mr Hejailan, one of the most eminent lawyers in the Middle East, said Mr Gilford was behaving dishonourably. "This is not a bank transaction, this is a living tragedy." He said he had released details of correspondence because of Mr Gilford's continued denials of having reached an agreement. "In the final negotiation, the amount dedicated to charity was reduced in order to increase the payment to Frank Gilford."

Today Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, will meet his Saudi opposite number, Prince Saud, in New York to discuss the situation. Neither country wants to see an execution and both sides believed such a possibility had been averted until Mr Gilford changed his stance.