Nurses facing death charge said to be well

Two British nurses accused of murdering an Australian colleague in Saudi Arabia have told a British embassy official they are tired but are being treated well.

The British consul Lawson Ross visited Deborah Parry, 41, from the Midlands, and Lucille McLauchlan, 31, from Scotland, for the first time on Christmas Eve. Mr Ross arranged for the two women to speak to their families over the phone and discussed details of legal representation with them.

The access to the women came after 48 hours of intense diplomatic pressure following their arrest after Foreign Office efforts failed to secure their release. They spent Christmas Day in Dhahran Central Prison and could face public beheading if found guilty of murder, although sources said the death penalty would be unlikely.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said embassy officials would be putting them in touch with a number of legal experts in Dhahran.The two Britons have been formally charged with the murder of Yvonne Gilford on 11 December. Human rights activists say the Saudi record on justice is one of the worst in the world. Almost 70 people - none of them European - have been beheaded this year alone. It is the form of execution regularly used in murder cases.

Miss Gilford was found dead in her room at the King Fahd Military Medical Complex in Dhahran, where all three women worked. The 55-year-old senior theatre nurse had been stabbed four times, battered with a hammer and smothered. She moved to Saudi Arabia six months ago from South Africa because she thought it was a safer country.

t Nursing unions in Scotland said they had no record of the nurse named as Lucille McLauchlan and there was no indication of where in Scotland she may have originated.

A report that a 31-year-old nurse called Lucille McLauchlan was dismissed from a Dundee hospital where she was training in May this year was confirmed last night in a statement from Dundee Teaching Hospitals. But the statement added: "Dundee Teaching Hospitals have no knowledge of any link between this person and any events in Saudi Arabia."

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