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Tuesday, 19 May, 1998, 22:31 GMT 23:31 UK
British nurses to be freed
Two nurse
Deborah Parry (left) and Lucille McLaughlan are to be freed
The Saudi embassy in London says that two British nurses jailed in Saudi Arabia after the murder of a colleague are to be freed with a pardon by King Fahd.

The announcement follows weeks of speculation that their release might be imminent.

Downing Street has welcomed the pair's release, describing it as a generous humanitarian act.

A statement said: "The Prime Minister is obviously grateful that the King has made this gesture."

The Saudi Ambassador Dr Ghazi al-Gosaibi, said Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry, who were jailed after the murder of Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford in 1996, should be home in the next couple of days.

A statement from Dr Algosaibi's office said: "In response to a petition from the families of the two British nurses convicted of murder in Saudi Arabia, the custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, issued an order commuting the sentence of the two nurses to the period they have already spent in jail and ordering their release.

"According to the judicial laws of Saudi Arabia when the next of kin in a murder case waves the right to retribution, the court can impose a discretionary jail sentence which the king can commute. This is what happened in this case," the statement went on.

Dr al-Gosaibi said he expected the two nurses to be back in Britain in the next couple of days.

PM pleas for nurses

In April this year the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, won assurances from Crown Prince Abdullah that Parry and McLauchlan would have their case reviewed.

Peter Watson, the solicitor for the McLauchlan family, expressed his delight at the King's decision, saying it repaid thousands of hours of hard work by British legal teams.

"We were always confident of getting a result, even in the darkest moments, and we look forward to seeing the girls home in Britain, Mr Watson said.

Lawyer Stephen Jakobi of Fair Trials Abroad, which lobbied for the nurses to be allowed legal representation, welcomed the pardon and said he had not expected it to happen so soon.

Death penalty a real possibility
Lucille Mclaughlan
McLachlan was allowed to marry her long-time boyfriend last year

The death penalty was a real possibility for the nurses after a court found them guilty of involvement in the murder of their Australian colleague at a Dhahran hospital in 1996.

On their arrest, the Saudi authorities said the pair had confessed to the crime.

Lucille Mclaughlan
McLachlan was allowed to marry her long-time boyfriend last year
But after meeting with their lawyers, the women withdrew the murder confessions, saying that they were made under duress because they feared sexual assault by their guards.

Parry, 40, from Alton in Hampshire, was convicted of stabbing Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford to death. However, Gilford's brother waived his right to demand the death penalty in exchange for 730,000 in "blood money".

McLauchlan, 32, from Dundee, was found guilty of being an accessory and sentenced in September to eight years in prison and 500 lashes. The lashing has not been carried out.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
The BBC's Home affairs correspondent Peter Gould on the Nine O'clock News (1'43")
BBC News
Stephen Jakobi from Fair Trials Abroad reacts to King Fahd's decision on the BBC News 24 (2'50")
See also:

11 Jan 98 | Despatches
British nurse on the move
19 Apr 98 | Blair in the Middle East
Nurses' case to be reviewed
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