Saudis silent on murder trial nurses' fate

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Two British nurses on trial for murder in Saudi Arabia remained in suspense over their future yesterday as speculation about a possible guilty verdict was accompanied by a protracted silence from the legal authorities.

Deborah Parry, 38, of Alton, Hampshire, and Lucille McLauchlan, 31, of Dundee, who are accused of murdering their Australian colleague Yvonne Gilford, had endured a tense week after the conclusion of evidence presented to the court in the Saudi city of Khobar.

Defence lawyers had presented new information regarding the mental competence of Ms Gilford's mother, Muriel, 84, presenting a copy of a medical report which they said "confirmed" that she was not mentally competent to demand the death penalty for her dughter's murder. This was expected to reduce the likelihood of the two nurses being executed if found guilty. But British media reports yesterday suggested that the court had made a secret decision last Wednesday to refer the case to the higher court. It was suggested that this meant they had been found guilty and advice was being sought for reviewing the verdict and considering possible sentence.

The reports were dismissed by Jonathan Ashbee, brother-in-law of Ms Parry, as "spurious sensationalism". He said: "The Saudi Ambassador to the UK ... stated that the `confessions' would not be relied upon in court in view of the way in which they were obtained, and any decision would be solely on any other evidence presented to the court. As we are all aware, no other evidence has been presented and therefore the only logical decision must be a dismissal of the case."

The Foreign Office could not yesterday confirm whether the case had been passed to a higher court. A spokesman said: "They wouldn't necessarily tell anybody that they had passed it on or if they had already reached their own decision. The bottom line is that there will be no verdict today."

Ms McLauchlan and Ms Parry deny murdering Ms Gilford. They claim they were forced to make confessions under the threat of sexual mistreatment from their interrogators and have since retracted their statements.