Confusion surrounded claims from a source in the capital, Riyadh, that a closed court hearing on 17 August had found Deborah Parry guilty of the murder of Yvonne Gilford, and Lucille McLauchlan guilty of being an accessory to murder.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Ms Parry, 38, had been sentenced to death and Ms McLauchlan, 31, given an undisclosed jail sentence. The claim was last night denied by Saudi lawyers for the prosecution and Saudi and British lawyers for the defence, who said the case had been passed to a higher court and no verdict had yet been issued.
"The documents of the case were submitted to a higher court in Riyadh last Saturday," said Salah al-Hejailan, whose firm represents the accused. "They did not give a judgment of any kind."
Diplomatic observers believe the Saudi government would be unlikely to antagonise a close ally like Britain by carrying out the execution and expect the women to be deported. No Westerner has ever been beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
The source, who claimed to have attended the trial - which under Saudi law admits only lawyers, defendants and witnesses, said that the verdict had been delivered but had not been made public while an appeal court reviewed the case. Such a review could last months or even years.
But both the Foreign Office and the nurses' families cast doubt on reports of a guilty verdict. A Foreign Office spokes- man said: "We are seeking confirmation of this report. We have followed this case very closely and the Saudi authorities are aware of our concern."
Deborah Parry's family feelthe family would have been informed if a verdict had been reached. Her brother-in-law, Jonathan Ashbee, said yesterday: "This has happened five or six times before with people saying a verdict has been reached."
Rodger Pannone and Peter Watson, representing the nurses, said: "Inquiries with our Saudi colleagues confirm reports relating to the verdict and sentence are without foundation."
Yvonne Gilford, whose body was found on 11 December, died from multiple stab wounds. In confessions they later retracted, and which the defence claim were made under duress, Ms Parry admitted to stabbing her, while Ms McLauchlan said she had put a pillow over her face.Reuse content