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Thursday, May 21, 1998 Published at 05:13 GMT 06:13 UK


Freed nurses return to UK
image: [ Deborah Parry, left, and Lucille McLauchlan have been pardoned ]
Deborah Parry, left, and Lucille McLauchlan have been pardoned

Two British nurses, released from a Saudi jail after being convicted of the murder of a colleague, have arrived at Gatwick Airport.

Lucille McLaughlan and Deborah Parry were released from prison in Saudi Arabia on Thursday in time to board an aircraft at Dhahran Airport.

Robin Cook: "I'm delighted the King has made this generous humanitarian act" (23")
The two women have not been cleared of the murder nearly a year and a half ago but were set free on humanitarian grounds.

The UK Government has welcomed the decision by Saudi monarch King Fahd to commute their sentences.

Yvonne Gilford was found stabbed to death at a military hospital complex in Dhahran, on Christmas Eve 1996.

[ image: The
The "humanitarian" decision came from King Fahd
The two nurses were accused of the crime and spent 17 months in prison before Wednesday's announcement.

Deborah Parry was found guilty of murder and was facing a public execution. Lucille McLauchlan was judged to have played a lesser role in the killing and was sentenced to eight years and 500 lashes.

Both women say they were forced to confess to a crime they did not commit and later retracted their confessions.

The people of Dundee, Lucille McLauchlan's home town, offer their opinions (32")
Tony Blair's official spokesman said the Prime Minister believed the decision to free the women was "a generous act by the king". But he stressed that Mr Blair would not comment on the presumed innocence or guilt of the nurses.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, said he was delighted. He called it a "generous humanitarian act".

Stephen Jakobi, from Fair Trials Abroad, says the nurses have been relatively lucky (20")
But a leading agency working to help Britons locked in foreign jails said the Foreign Office has concentrated on the nurses, and ignored other deserving cases.

Stephen Jakobi from Fair Trials Abroad said they were young, female and newsworthy, whereas someone like a "middle-aged lorry driver sitting in prison in Morocco" is neglected by politicians.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of Al Quds: spotlight on the nurses helped them (22")
Abdel Bari Atwan, a leading Arab journalist, added that the nurses received preferential treatment from the Saudi authorities.

But Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan Bin Abd al-Aziz said that King Fahd's decision was due to Islamic generosity, not the result of a desire to please the foreign press.

Return to fresh controversy

In a new twist to events, Scotland's Crown Office said McLauchlan, 32, has been ordered to appear in court in Dundee on June 18. She will be charged with an offence of theft dating back to 1996.

It has also emerged that both women are to be paid substantial sums of money for selling their stories to the national press

[ image: Frank Gilford has not received the money]
Frank Gilford has not received the money
Lawyers acting for the brother of the dead Australian nurse Yvonne Gilford have demanded the immediate release of "compensation".

Frank Gilford agreed to accept about £750,000 in return for deciding to waive his right to call for the death penalty on Parry, 39, and McLauchlan.

Mr Gilford, who lives in Australia, gave a hollow laugh when he was told that the decision had been described as a "shining example" of Saudi justice. "Is that what it is?" he asked.

"I suppose these women are going to get home and make a $20m film of their lives now. That's what I heard on the radio," he said.

The money is already held in Australia, but the nurses' lawyer, Salah al-Hejailan, said that he would not release it to the Gilford family if they insisted on calling it "compensation" rather than "blood money".


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