Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry, who spent 18 months in prison for a crime they say they did not commit, flew from Dhahran, heading for a row in Britain over the six-figure sums being paid by newspapers for their stories. Looking tired, the nurses arrived at the airport with a British consul. Neither was allowed to talk to reporters, whom Saudi guards prevented from entering the terminal.
The women were freed by King Fahd on Tuesday, six months after Frank Gilford, brother of the victim, the Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford, accepted pounds 750,000 for waiving his right to demand the death penalty. Last night Salah al-Hejailan, the lawyer who negotiated the deal, said he had written to the nurses recommending they contest half the money at a hearing in Adelaide on 29 May. "If they win, they should offer the money back to the secret donors who gave it to them. If the donors don't want it
The nurses had been in prison since Christmas Eve 1996, charged with murdering Ms Gilford, 55, who had been stabbed, battered and suffocated in her room at King Fahd Military Medical Centre in Dhahran. They were convicted on the strength of confessions, later retracted, which they say were extracted under the threat of physical and sexual abuse.
The Press Complaints Commission has been asked to investigate payments to the women from the Mirror and Express, even though they have been convicted of murder. Under the PCC's code, papers are barred from paying convicted criminals. Last night, as Labour and Tory MPs urged the PCC to intervene, Piers Morgan, Mirror editor, defended the decision to pay for Ms McLauchlan's story. "We ... believe she has been the victim of a gross miscarriage of justice. Her story is a sensational account of how a young woman was framed for a crime she did not commit. If she was guilty of murder, would the Prime Minister have gone to such lengths to intervene and get her released?"
Rosie Boycott, editor of the Express, confirmed that her paper had entered into an exclusive agreement with Ms Parry and her family: "Anything we do will be well within the PCC guidelines."
However, George Galloway, Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin, complained to the PCC. "I do not believe they should profit from this," he said. "It is quite grotesque. They have not been pardoned - they have been convicted of murder. The same newspapers who hounded Mary Bell and criticised the payment to her are paying out money to two convicted murderers." PCC sources said a "public interest" defence may apply in this case.
Mr Gilford knew nothing yesterday of Mr Hejailan's recommendation to hold back half the blood money, which he prefers to call "compensation". He refused to comment at his home near Adelaide, but his wife Laurel said: "They have got off lightly. It is just incredible ... they will have to live with their consciences for the rest of their lives."
For Ms McLauchlan, the threat of prison loomed again last night. The Procurator Fiscal at Dundee yesterday obtained a warrant for her appearance at Dundee Sheriff Court on 18 June on charges of stealing a credit card and pounds 1,740 from a terminally ill patient at a hospital in Dundee in 1996. She denied the charge.
In a BBC Panorama programme to be broadcast tonight the nurses talk about the interrogation by Saudi police which they say forced them to confess.