Hint of hope for nurses in murder trial

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The Independent Online
The man who holds the fate of two British nurses in his hands hinted yesterday that he had not ruled out asking a Saudi court to spare them from being beheaded.

Frank Gilford, brother of Yvonne Gilford, the Australian nurse allegedly murdered by the Britons Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan, made conflicting statements about his willingness to see the death penalty carried out. But, as a result of the Saudi court adjourning the women's trial for three weeks so lawyers could make a plea for clemency, he said he would use the time to think about his position.

Mr Gilford, of Adelaide, and his family are the only people who can save Ms Parry and Ms McLauchlan if they are found guilty of beating, stabbing and smothering his sister to death last December at the King Fahd Military Medical Complex in Dhahran. He has consistently said he wanted the death penalty carried out, and appeared to adhere to that yesterday in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live's Midday with Mair programme.

When asked by the journalist Eddie Mair whether he would consider clemency in the case, he replied: "Not at this stage, no." However, by the end of the five-minute interview, he appeared to soften his position. Asked what would make him ask for clemency, he replied: "That I don't know until such time as we get more facts and time to contemplate the aspects.

"It is something that we have some weeks to think about and contemplate. It is not a matter of a simple question, yes or no, now. It's something that we have got to think about. We can't just jump of the deep end and say, Oh yes, we're going to do this, we're going to do that."

Asked when he and his family would make a decision, he replied: "Well, give us time to think about it. We don't know."

The brutal way his 55-year-old sister was killed has clearly played a large part in his calls for the penalty to be carried out. "It has not been easy - it is something that just doesn't go away," he said. "You can sort of close your eyes and see your sister there, all stab wounds and head all bashed in. It just doesn't go away."

Earlier, in an interview with Independent Radio News, Mr Gilford acknowledged that the death penalty and "blood money" - compensation for a victim's family - were not the only punishments available to the courts. "There are more options than just the blood money and the beheading," he said. "Apparently, there is imprisonment in the case as well."

Ms Parry, 41, of Alton, Hampshire, and Ms McLauchlan, 31, of Dundee, have withdrawn confessions, which they told a hearing in Al-Khobar on Sunday they made after being threatened with rape. The hearing was adjourned for three weeks so fresh approaches could be made to Mr Gilford.

His apparent willingness to consider the jail option was welcomed by Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad. "But the problem here is not whether guilty people deserve the death penalty," he said. "It is that confession statements were obtained in highly dubious circumstances."