Women `confess to killing' of nurse in Saudi

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The two British nurses who face beheading if found guilty of the murder of a colleague have allegedly confessed to killing her, according to a leading Saudi-owned newspaper.

Al-Hayat, one of the most respected daily publications in the Arab world, quotes police sources as saying that Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry have admitted killing Yvonne Gilford, but they are reported as saying that her death was unintentional. If their alleged version of events is accepted by a Saudi court, the charge could be reduced to manslaughter and the sentence commuted.

Ms McLauchlan, 31, and Ms Parry, 41, were formally charged on Christmas Eve with the murder of Ms Gilford, 55. She died after being stabbed four times, battered with a hammer and smothered in her room at the King Fahd Military Medical Centre in Dhahran, where all three worked.

Al-Hayat quotes police sources as saying Ms Gilford, an Australian, was killed following a party attended by the two accused. It says there was a row and Ms McLauchlan and Ms Parry later admitted the unintentional killing.

The two women were arrested after allegedly being caught on video camera using Ms Gilford's credit cards on 18 December, a week after her death. The Foreign Office last night described Al-Hayat's claims as "pure speculation".

If found guilty of murder, the women's death sentence could be commuted at the request of the victim's family - but it emerged yesterday that no such request would be forthcoming. Frank Gilford, Lucille's brother, said from Australia: "If you do something wrong in a foreign country you have to abide by the rule and punishments of that nation." He said there would be no plea for clemency.

Meanwhile, the brother of Lucille McLauchlan denied reports that his sister had been sacked from a previous job for stealing from patients. John McLauchlan, 28, said that reports that his sister, a former "student nurse of the year", had been dismissed from a teaching job in Scotland for stealing were "untrue".

A statement from Dundee Teaching Hospitals read: "Lucille McLauchlan was dismissed in May 1996 . . . for gross misconduct following a police investigation. Dundee Teaching Hospitals know of no link between this person and any events in Saudi Arabia."

Mr McLauchlan said his sister had left of her own accord. "The ward she was working on was closing. She was offered a position on another ward but she did not want it. She went to a different hospital and got the opportunity to go to Saudi. If she had been dismissed she would not have gone to Saudi Arabia in the first place."

Mr McLauchlan said that his parents were having problems comprehending the plight of their daughter. Like the parents of Ms Parry, they were yesterday liaising with Foreign Office officials and planned to go to Dhahran once they were assured they would be able to see their daughter.

Meanwhile, the victim's family said they would not intervene to save the two nurses. Under Saudi law, a condemned person can be saved if the victim's family pleads for clemency.

"Whoever did this did not give clemency to my sister and I don't think I would offer clemency, bearing in mind the way my sister was murdered," Mr Gilford said.