Saudi Nurses: Diaries tell of assaults and sex threats

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Details of the five-day interrogation which led to the women's confessions are emerging, reports Steve Boggan

THE case for the defence of Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry - which was never heard by the Saudi Arabian court which convicted them - was finally given an airing yesterday.

Within hours of the women's arrival at Gatwick airport in West Sussex, details began to emerge of the appalling five-day interrogation which led to them making false confessions. In the absence of any other evidence against them, it was these admissions, later retracted, that led to their convictions.

In diaries and detailed accounts made from their cells and smuggled out to the BBC's Panorama programme, shown last night, the nurses told how they were threatened with rape and violence, played off against each other and, finally, ordered to write matching accounts of the events leading to the murder of their colleague, Yvonne Gilford, in December 1996.

At one point, Ms McLauchlan describes how, after three days of physical assaults, sexual threats and sleep deprivation, she was ordered to confess to suffocating Ms Gilford after supposed stabbings by Ms Parry failed to finish her off.

She had already been forced to admit to using Ms Gilford's credit card to steal money from an automatic banking machine. Later, she was instructed by the chief interrogator, a Major Hammed, to go further.

"I say `No bloody way'," she wrote in her prison diary. "Admitting to theft is bad enough but I am not saying I helped to kill Yvonne. I will not do it, I will not do it. I refuse to write a statement saying I suffocated Yvonne. Hammed just laughs, saying `Yes you will, Lucy, or you know what will happen. Either you write the statement now or you will write it after we have finished with you'."

She later adds: "Here we go again. Told to stand up. The first lieutenant whose name I do not know slaps me across the back of the head. I fall over. I get on to my knees. He stands in front of me and unzips his trousers. He has an erection. I close my eyes and tell Hammed `OK, okay'."

And she wrote a fresh confession implicating herself in the murder.

Panorama obtained copies of the women's "confessions" as they evolved throughout five days of writing and rewriting. At first, they differ in detail and have large gaps in accounts of events. By the end of the fifth day, however, each had made supporting statements, which they say were largely dictated by their interrogators.

Dr Eric Shepherd, a forensic psychologist, examined the confessions and described them as "forensic twaddle".

"All of the indicators are that they were dictated in their substance by the Saudi police," he said. "I think that the run of the confessions, i.e. their changes, is persuasive evidence that [the nurses] were coerced ... And then the ultimate change from Debbie's first confession to her second confession could only have happened by coercion."

Ms Parry's first confession, signed at 8.30am on the fifth day of interrogation, said she and Lucille had each stabbed Ms Gilford. At that point, Ms McLau-chlan's had said only Ms Parry had stabbed her because she had been spurned by Ms Gilford, who the police said was her lesbian lover. But Ms Parry's confession said it was the other way around.

The women were ordered to write fresh confessions which finally concurred that Ms Parry had done the stabbing and Ms McLauchlan the suffocating.

Describing how the collusion was handled by the police, Ms McLauchlan wrote: "I have to go into the room where Deb is and read my statement to her - unbelievable. Deb is so distraught when I see her she can hardly write. I tell her just to get it finished. I'm so bloody scared, I just want to get out of the police station. I practically beg her to get it together and write the bloody statement so it is done with."

Describing the same scene in her diary, Ms Parry recalls: "The police knew that I would listen to Lucy. They kept on telling her to tell me to be co-operative and write something. Lucy said the police dictated this to her in her statement and so I would have to keep to that."

However, Dr Ian Hill, a forensic pathologist at Guy's Hospital in London, said the post-mortem examination conducted in Saudi Arabia made no mention of death by suffocation.

"The pattern of the injuries and the extent of them suggest that it was a fairly robust struggle," he said.

Asked whether the pattern of injuries - bruising to the face, chest and arms, and seven stab wounds to the front of the body - reflected details in the confessions, Dr Hill replied: "The confessions don't describe in any way, shape or form the extent of the struggle which took place, nor do they mirror the pattern of injuries which we see on the body."

However, the programme also threw up an anomaly in Ms McLauchlan's denials that she ever entered a branch of the Arab National Bank where the Saudis said she had drawn money on Ms Gilford's card and wired it home. A bank manager said he saw her there and, in an earlier statement to a lawyer in Saudi Arabia, she admitted being there when she was arrested.

She is facing a charge of using a terminally ill patient's credit card to steal pounds 1,700 while she was nursing in Dundee in 1996. She has denied the charge. She and her husband, Grant Ferrie, believe the Saudi police knew about this charge and planted Ms Gilford's card on her while she was in custody. The Saudis told the media at the time that they had security pictures of her drawing out money with it, but these never materialised.

During their ordeal, both women say they were subjected to physical assaults, including having their breasts and private parts touched. At one point, an officer with scissors cut away pieces of Ms Parry's pubic hair. On another occasion, Ms McLauchlan had a lit cigarette held in front of her eyes to encourage a confession.

That, and the conditions in which they lived, led to fears for their health. Describing the conditions, Ms McLauchlan wrote: "Pissed off with smell, dirty toilets, cockroach-infested bins and dirty nappies. Hygiene's unbelievably bad. Please someone come and say we are going home. Please."

For Ms Parry, the situation grew serious. She collapsed several times and slumped deeper into depression. "Contemplated taking OD [overdose] if not out by end of year or before," she wrote in one of her darkest moments. "Cannot stay here much longer. Don't care anymore what happens. Give up."

For her, freedom appears to have come not a moment too soon.