New anxiety as Saudi nurses' trial is halted

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The Independent Online
The ordeal of two British nurses accused of murdering a colleague in Saudi Arabi was prolonged still further yesterday when their trial was adjourned for another two weeks on a technicality.

The case had been expected to conclude yesterday, but was again delayed to allow further examination of the legal position of the victim's brother, who has demanded the death penalty if the women are found guilty. Lucille McLauchlan, 31, from Dundee and Deborah Parry, 38, from Alton, Hampshire, are accused of killing Australian colleague Yvonne Gilford, 55, at the King Fahd Military medical complex where all three worked. Miss Gilford had been stabbed 13 times, beaten and suffocated.

The latest twist to the case is sure to cause further anxiety to the women who have been held in a communal cell in Dammam Central Prison since their arrest in December last year.

The British women claim they were forced to confess to the murder under threat of sexual mistreatment from their interrogators, and have since retracted the statements. The Foreign Office said neither the defendants nor their families, who travelled to Saudi Arabia on Friday, were allowed to attend yesterday's 20-minute hearing.

Lawson Ross, the British vice consul, was present along with the women's legal representatives. Sources close to the case in both Saudi Arabia and the UK had indicated that yesterday's hearing was likely to produce a conclusive result.

There was also speculation that new evidence, which would further diminish the case against the women would be put forward. Lawyers said the women were threatened and physically abused and promised that if they confessed to the murder they would be allowed to return home.

Rodger Pannone, the British lawyer who represents Deborah Parry and her family, said that he had spoken to Jonathan Ashbee - Deborah Parry's brother- in-law - a short time after the adjournment.

Mr Pannone said Mr Ashbee, 38, who is in Saudi Arabia with his wife, Sandra, and Lucille McLauchlan's parents Stan and Ann, told him the judges wanted to examine the position of Yvonne Gilford's elderly mother and whether her son Frank had the right to demand the death penalty on her behalf. Mrs Gilford has Alzheimer's disease and it had previously been thought the court had decided her son had the legal right to make the decision for her.

The lawyers and the families of the British women have asked Mr Gilford to ask himself if the case would even have gone to trial in Western countries, because of the length of time the women were held before they were given access to a lawyer or to consular officials.

Mr Gilford has rejected offers to meet the families and discuss the case or to visit Saudi Arabia, sticking to the statement he made shortly after the nurses were arrested that: "If you do something wrong in a foreign country, you have to abide by the rules and punishments of that nation." The case resumes on 10 August.