Who killed Yvonne Gilford? Who cares - certainly not the tabloids

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WHO KILLED Yvonne Gilford? Read all about it. Well, no actually that is the last thing anyone will be reading about today no matter which newspaper they buy. Never mind the talk of Saudi kangaroo courts for yet again we can witness sections of the British press setting up their own kangaroo courts to give their verdict on nurses Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan.

Basically it goes like this: the newspapers that have bought up the women's stories will loudly proclaim them innocent, those who were in the bidding but failed will accept the Saudi verdict that they are guilty.

Thus we have the bizarre spectacle of both the Sun and the Daily Mail lecturing us on the dangers of xenophobia "Saudi law and English law are very different. But that does not make their justice automatically more suspect than ours," an editorial in the Mail patiently explains. The Sun agrees: "Three judges found them guilty at a fair trial."

Meanwhile the Express promises: "Our girl is no killer". The "girl" in question is a thirty-nine-year old woman, but as Deborah Parry has sold her diary to the Express she will doubtless be further infantilised. The Mirror has got "Darling Lucy", Lucille McLauchlan on their front page. "Darling Lucy" is reunited with her husband Grant while inside the paper her parents tell of how she was "a perfect daughter".

None of this tells us anything about what really went on in Dhahran, but it tells us a lot about the way that the tabloid press operates. For "our girls" to be seen as innocent they must be relentlessly portrayed as somebody's wife, somebody's daughter, their victimhood predicated on their supposed normality.

We already know more or less what Parry and McLauchlan's stories will tell us: that they were intimidated into making their confessions, that they suffered abuses before and after their trials, that Saudi jails are cockroach -infested hell-holes. The details that will be revealed will be interesting only if there are any differences between the two women's stories.

Yet as this newspaper has already argued no one emerges with much integrity from this tale. There is a widespread revulsion that the nurses, even if innocent, should make money in this way. Since when did it fall to newspapers to provide compensation for "miscarriages of justice"?

Yvonne Gilford's brother, Frank, has already been publicly reviled for accepting money in order to waive the death penalty on Parry. He too argued that the money he accepted should be called compensation rather than, as the Saudis insisted, "blood money". The murdered woman herself was said at one point to have been a lone-shark.

All these financial dealings appear incredibly sordid. However the big financial transactions which appear to have influenced the decision to release the two women are the trade and arms deals between this country and Saudi Arabia. Had the death sentence been carried out on Parry, business as usual would have been difficult to maintain. This is why British Aerospace which has huge contracts in the region came up with the blood money for Frank Gilford.

Is all this part of the "ethical foreign policy" that Robin Cook proudly proclaims? The huge arms deals to Saudi Arabia mean that Blair and Cook have in some ways to keep the Saudi's sweet so that they remain an important alley in a volatile area. They have to tread a fine line between insisting that the Saudi's are nice guys to do business with and recognising their tendency to behead the odd Filipino. If we accept that this is a country in which innocent nurses are tortured into making confessions, in which British citizens can be executed in a medieval style, in which lives can be bought and sold - then why are we selling them so many arms?

It is extremely difficult to see what is remotely ethical in all this. Or have we all become such cultural relativists that abuses of human rights are not our business if they interfere with our capacity to do business?

Such questions unfortunately will be ignored in an attempt to parade Parry and McLauchlan through the press as victims who have suffered horrendous injustices. The same people who decried the payment of pounds 15,000 to Mary Bell will be happy to see these two women make large amounts of money. Who says victimhood isn't powerful?

However many of us feel uneasy, just as we did with Louise Woodward, when British women abroad are presumed innocent no matter what courts in far away lands might say.

It is easy enough to whip up anti-Islamic feeling, just as it was easy to deride a legal system that freed OJ Simpson. One might presume that in our green and pleasant land, there are never miscarriages of justices, that no one ever dies in police custody and that there are no traces of racism in our glorious legal system. We are currently criticising the Saudi system of closed trials, whereas before we were up in arms about the Woodward trial on the grounds that it was open to the media. Clearly in future any body breaking the law in a foreign country should be flown home immediately - especially if they are young, female and even a little photogenic - as they could not possibly get a fair trial elsewhere.

None of this really qualifies as news but operates as the turning of tragedies into real life whodunnits. Whatever we believe about these women we are operating entirely instinct, guess work and prejudice of one kind or another.

It is tempting to see the necessity of creating this new brand of victim- heroines who flaunt their suffering as the result of a post-traumatic stress disorder produced by the death of Diana. The media abhors a vacuum and must fill it somehow, anyhow. Murderous au-pairs and nurses will do, as long as we get to feel their pain too.

We are not interested in the real victims of all this, for the dead cannot tell their stories. They are of no use to this kind of journalism whatsoever, for they might reveal the truth; and that. for all the pompous and self- congratulatory rhetoric on display, is not what is really being bought and sold here.

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