'18 years' for Britons jailed in Saudi Arabia

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The Independent Online

Two Britons accused of involvement in a bombing spree in Saudi Arabia have been secretly sentenced to 18 years in prison, it was reported last night. One of the men, James Lee, was believed to have been sentenced last October and another, James Cottle, received his sentence in February – both seemingly convicted after video confessions.

However, the British Foreign Office refused to confirm there had been any sentencing. It said yesterday it was "deeply concerned" but there "is still an ongoing judicial process, and we ... believe it is not in the best interests of the men to raise their profiles."

A Canadian accused of masterminding the attacks, William Sampson, was reported to have been sentenced to execution last year and hasfailed in two appeals since.

The men are part of a group of seven detained in connection with the bombings that killed one Briton and injured others. Saudi authorities blamed the attacks on turf wars between illegal alcohol importers.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, who met President Bush on Thursday, is engaged in a delicate balancing act over the case. Any sentences would have to be confirmed by the Saudi royal and, while the West want leniency, Saudi hardliners are pushing for strong punishment.