Deborah Parry, from Alton in Cheshire, and Lucille McLauchlan, from Dundee, arrived in a police van at Khobar Supreme Court at noon dressed in traditional black Saudi robes. Escorted by their lawyer, Salah al-Hejailan, and flanked by a dozen policemen, the two women, hampered by the shackles, walked slowly into the courthouse through a side door.
Ms McLauchlan appeared healthy and relaxed, but Ms Parry looked drawn as they entered the courthouse to appear before a three-judge tribunal. Also present was the British Consul, General William Patey. Police prevented the Press from entering the courthouse.
Ms Parry, 41, and Ms McLauchlan, 31, face the death penalty, possibly by public beheading, if convicted of killing 55-year-old Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford. They have been in detention for nearly six months.
Ms Gilford's body was found last December in her room at the King Fahd Military Medical Complex in the eastern Saudi town of Dhahran, where the three worked as nurses. Saudi authorities said the nurse had been stabbed four times, beaten and suffocated.
Lawyers from the International Law Firm, which is representing the victim's family, attended the hearing, which lasted for two hours but made no comment. In an atmosphere described by one legal source as "increasingly difficult", British lawyers are understood to have been instructed by the Foreign Office not to speak publicly about the case.
The women have been jailed in the nearby city of Dammam since their arrest. If convicted they could face public beheading by the sword, the first time Western women would have been executed in the conservative Islamic kingdom.
Under Islamic law, which is enforced in Saudi Arabia, the victim's family has the right to demand the death penalty or accept blood money. Last month, Frank Gilford, the brother of the victim, turned down an appeal from the nurses' lawyers to waive the death penalty if the nurses are convicted.
A total of 39 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia so far this year, with six beheaded yesterday alone for crimes ranging from theft to drug smuggling.
Saudi police said the nurses had confessed to the murder and that the confessions had been filed with Saudi judges. But Mr Hejailan's firm said they did so only because they were told it would mean they would not face prosecution and could go home. He said the women had withdrawn their confessions, and one of them retracted a statement that she had had a lesbian relationship with the victim.Reuse content