Trial delay for Saudi nurses hy

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The trial of two British nurses charged with the murder of their Australian colleague was adjourned for another week yesterday, amid disputes about the victim's closest relatives.

Under Saudi Arabia's Islamic laws, the victim's closest surviving blood relatives are identified before the end of the trial, because in the event of conviction only they have the right to demand or waive the death penalty.

Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan are accused of stabbing and beating Yvonne Gilford, 55, to death at the King Fahd Military Medical Complex in Dhahran in eastern Saudi Arabia where the three worked.

Frank Gilford, the brother of the dead nurse, has demanded the death sentence. If they are found guilty, the nurses may be beheaded.

On Thursday, the nurses' lawyer, Salah al-Hejailan, said new evidence showed Mr Gilford was not an heir in his sister's will and had no right to press for the nurses' execution if they were convicted.

Defence lawyers said yesterday that the judge wanted more information on the dead nurse's heirs and on the power of attorney of the lawyers representing her brother.

"Their power of attorney was not clear and the court does not have a record of the heirs of the dead nurse," said lawyers representing the nurses.

Mr Gilford's lawyers said they had asked for a week's delay to get the necessary documents from Australia.

"The court recognises Frank Gilford and his mother as Yvonne Gilford's blood relatives and she left her mother property and Frank a modest sum of money," said Mr Gilford's Saudi lawyers, the International Law Firm.

The two nurses appeared in court for yesterday's one-hour hearing but did not speak. Their ankles were shackled and they were covered in the traditional black robes worn by women in Saudi Arabia.

The two allegedly confessed to the murders but withdrew their testimonies, saying they were obtained under duress.

The Saudi embassy in London said this weekend that even if the court found the two women guilty, they would not necessarily be put to death. The court could find the murder involved self-defence or resulted from an argument which got out of hand, in which case the death penalty would not be applied.

If the death penalty was imposed the case would automatically go to a five-judge appeal court. The sentence would have to be approved finally by King Fahd.