Saudis promise murder case nurses a fair trial

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The Independent Online
The Saudi Arabian ambassador in London said yesterday that controversial confessions made by two nurses accused of murder would be disregarded in court.

Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan are alleged to have confessed to murdering Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford at the Saudi medical complex where all three worked. They subsequently withdrew their confessions, saying they were made after policemen stripped and threatened to rape them.

Dr Ghazi Algosaibi said the court would not uphold a confession unless given freely in front of the court. "All earlier confessions will be ignored. If the two girls are innocent they have nothing to fear," he said in a written statement yesterday.

The ambassador spoke after it emerged that the nurses had offered to contribute to a trust fund in honour of Ms Gilford, to escape the death penalty. This would correspond with Sharia law, which allows relatives of the murder victim to choose "blood money" in place of the murderers' execution.

Lawyers acting for the two nurses were keen to stress the offer was not an admission of guilt. Salah Al-Hejailan, speaking on Independent Radio News, said: "They are totally innocent and they are not seeking forgiveness. However, having said that, they are willing to actively participate to speak on or advocate the interests of a fund for the memory of Yvonne, the victim of this crime."

On Sunday, the Saudi court was adjourned for three weeks so lawyers could make a plea for clemency. The only people who can save the two women's lives are relatives of Ms Gilford.

Out of apparent reluctance to see the nurses executed, the judges adjourned the trial for three weeks so lawyers could appeal to the Gilford family. The judge at Sunday's hearing was said to have "expressly and explicitly" asked why the murdered nurse's family would wish to take advantage of the death penalty when it does not exist in their culture. Frank Gilford, her brother,has spoken of the "unbearable strain" of having to decide whether the two nurses should live or die.