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Wednesday, 20 May, 1998, 07:42 GMT 08:42 UK
Saudis to free British nurses
stills of nurses
Deborah Parry (on the left) and Lucille McLauchlan could be home within days
Two British nurses jailed in Saudi Arabia after the murder of a colleague are to be pardoned and freed by King Fahd.

Deborah Parry and Lucille McLauchlan could be home within a few days.

The Saudi Arabian embassy, in London, said their release followed appeals from the nurses families.

Lucille McLauchlan and fellow nurse Deborah Parry were jailed for the killing of Australian Yvonne Gilford in 1996.

Miss McLauchlan's family said: "We hope and pray that we can see our daughter soon and that this dreadful nightmare will come to an end."

Family reaction

In a statement issued through the nurse's solicitor, William Boyle, her family said: "We are greatly encouraged by the news and can hardly allow ourselves to believe it."

King Fahd
King Fahd is said to have responded to written pleas submiited by the nurses
They also went out of their way to praise the Saudi monarch. The family stated: "We are grateful to King Fahd for his action in considering our petition and for granting a pardon."

The nurses' Saudi lawyer, Salah al-Hejailan, has hailed the pardon as a "shining aspect of Islamic justice", and said the two women and their families would be overjoyed to hear of it.

Speaking from his home in Riyadh, he said: "I am very pleased and grateful for the early release pardon issued by the King in this case.

Mr al-Hejailan said he had not spoken to the nurses since the news had come through but he was certain they would have been told.

Mr al-Hejailan said the two nurses had submitted a written appeal for mercy to King Fahd and had expressed their appreciation to him for the way in which their case had been treated.

Hopes for an early release of the two were raised in March this year and were boosted still further by Tony Blair's visit to Saudi Arabia last month, during which he raised the issue of the nurses' plight with King Fahd.

The announcement of a pardon comes just a few days before England's football team is due to meet Saudi Arabia in a friendly match.

No 10 reaction

Downing Street said last night in a statement: "This will be seen as a generous humanitarian act by the King.

"The Prime Minister is obviously grateful that the King has made this gesture."

Parry's brother-in-law, Jonathan Ashbee, told PA News that the family had received no official notification of the pardon, and were unwilling to comment on it until they were sure that it was genuine.

McLauchlan, 32, from Dundee, and Parry, 39, from Alton, Hampshire, were charged with Miss Gilford's murder on December 24, 1996.

The Saudi authorities said they had confessed to the crime and admitted to to having been involved in a lesbian relationship with Miss Gilford but the women later withdrew the confessions, claiming they were made under duress.

Gilford family reacts

Frank Gilford, brother of the murdered nurse, today refused to comment on the decision to pardon the pair, the Australian Associated Press reported.

At his home in Jamestown, in South Australia's mid-north, Mr Gilford told reporters: "I've got nothing to say, thank you."

But speaking to Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper his wife Laurel said the family were stunned by the decision, the agency said.

"They have got off light. It is just incredible," she told the paper.

"Yvonne has gone and has been murdered and they will have to live with their consciences for the rest of their lives.

"It is just maddening that they have got off, but nothing we can say can bring Yvonne back."

BBC News
The nurses lawyer in Saudi Arabia Salah al-Hejailan hails the decision as Islamic justice
BBC News
Lawyer Stephen Jakobi, of Fair Trials Abroad, says he's surprised the case has been resolved so quickly
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