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William Sampson (2002)

Sampson joins suit against Saudi jailers
The Canadian and six Britons claim they were tortured

William Sampson

After failing to get the Saudi government to admit he was tortured, Canadian William Sampson has joined six Britons in a lawsuit aimed at proving they were repeatedly beaten during 2 1/2 years in a Saudi jail. Details of the lawsuit will be released tomorrow at a news conference in London, but a lawyer working for Sampson said the men want their day in court to present medical evidence that proves they were tortured.

First, however, they must persuade Britain's High Court to allow their lawsuit to proceed at a hearing on May 7.

Under British law, they need the court's approval to file their suit since all four men named in it are foreign nationals. Those four are the two men they say tortured them, the Saudi Arabian interior minister and the deputy governor of the jail in which they were kept in Riyadh.

"At the moment it's very much legal arguments," said Mark Emery, a solicitor at Bindman and Partners, a London firm that specializes in human rights cases.

William Sampson

In a separate lawsuit, British businessperson Ron Jones was denied permission last year in the High Court to sue the Saudi government for damages because lawsuits are not allowed against foreign governments. An appeal of his case is scheduled to be heard May 11.

Emery said Jones's lawsuit did not influence the timing of the case filed by the seven men.

Like the seven men released by Saudi authorities last August, Jones claims he was tortured into making a false confession he participated in a terrorist attack.

Sampson, 44, who was born in Nova Scotia but raised in Vancouver, Montreal, Britain and Singapore, faced beheading after he was convicted in a fatal bombing the Saudis say was part of a turf war between rival bootleggers.

Sampson and Briton Alexander Mitchell were sentenced to death, while Britons James Lee, James Cottle, Les Walker and Peter Brandon were given prison terms in connection with two bombings more than three years ago in which British citizen Christopher Rodway was killed and four other people injured.

William Sampson

A sixth Briton, Glenn Ballard, who was detained for 10 months but not charged, is the seventh man involved in the lawsuit.

Sampson's lawyers have said he was forced to confess after police beat him, hung him upside down, kept him awake for more than a week and threatened to harm his family. Sampson has said he suffered two heart attacks during his 31 months of captivity at the prison in Riyadh.

A spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in London could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the government has denied torturing any of the men.

Sampson went to work in Saudi Arabia's pharmaceutical industry in Riyadh as a marketing consultant in July 1998.

Don't back Saudis, say 'tortured' Britons

A British businessman suing the Saudi authorities over claims that they tortured him into confessing to a terrorist bombing wants the British Government to drop its plans to back his captors in court.

Seven other men also jailed in Saudi Arabia over claims that they were behind a spate of bombings as part of a turf war over alcohol are likely to join the legal test case over suing their alleged torturers.

Since their release from a Saudi jail last year, the expatriates have been demanding compensation for injuries sustained from what they claim were months of systematic torture.

Saudi diplomats in London have refused to meet them, despite secret efforts by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to try to avert what will be a controversial court hearing. The men say that they have medical evidence to show that they were beaten on the feet with axe handles and iron bars until they could not walk, and were left suspended by the arms from the ceiling of their cells to prevent them from sleeping.

Saudi officials claim that the men were freed from prison after an agreement that they would not seek compensation nor publicly criticise their captors. The Britons deny agreeing to such a deal and say that they will refuse any attempt by the Saudi authorities to settle this out of court.

Ron Jones was refused permission last year in the High Court to sue the Saudi Government for £2.5 million but will take his case to the Court of Appeal in May.

At stake is whether the Saudi authorities are protected by Britain's State Immunity Act. Lawyers from the Department for Constitutional Affairs will support state immunity in this test case. One official said: 'We are not going to court to support the Saudis and what they did or didn't do to British prisoners but to uphold the State Immunity Act.'

Diplomats are worried about the outcome of the case amid suggestions that British detainees freed from Guantanamo Bay may want compensation for their treatment.

Mr Jones, from Hamilton in Lanarkshire, said: 'I'm appalled at my own Government. They are saying it is all right for a foreign state to torture Britons, which makes a nonsense of Tony Blair's support for human rights.'

He was injured in March 2001 after a bomb attack on a bookshop in Riyadh.

The next morning Saudi secret police dragged him from his hospital bed and for the next 67 days he says that they tortured him into confessing that he built, planted and detonated the bomb.

The Saudi authorities still insist that the spate of bombings, which killed a British and an American businessman, was a battle between expatriates for control of the black-market alcohol trade. Western diplomats, however, always believed that local Islamic extremists were to blame.

Recent devastating car bombings aimed at residential compounds occupied by Western workers has forced the Saudis to admit the presence of extremists loyal to Osama bin Laden, although they still insist that the eight Britons were guilty.

The men will produce medical documents this week detailing the torture they suffered. None has been able to work since they were freed because of their injuries.

Lawyers acting for Sandy Mitchell and Les Walker said yesterday that the two and a fellow inmate, Bill Sampson, a Canadian, have made a claim in the High Court for damages and will join Ron Jones in his appeal.

The men, who spent more than two and a half years in a jail, want compensation from two of their interrogators and also from the deputy governor of the prison and the Saudi Interior Minister, Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz.

Both Mr Mitchell and Mr Sampson were seen on television confessing to the bomb attack which killed the British businessman Christopher Rodway in December, 2000.

The pair were sentenced to death.

Their lawyer, Mark Emery, a solicitor at Bindman and Partners, would not say how much was being sought in what is expected to be a multi-million-pound claim.

But he added: 'We are not saying we are not suing the state. It is certainly possible we are going to sue the state. We are very much of the opinion that might occur at some point.'

He said: 'The men are coping but they have been through an horrendous experience. Without a shadow of doubt they are innocent.

James Cottle, James Lee, Peter Brandon and Glen Ballard are also pushing for damages through a law firm in Manchester after their experiences under Saudi detention.

Sampson blasts embassy officials

William Sampson accused the Canadian government on Thursday of sacrificing him to political expediency by refusing to condemn publicly the Saudi justice system and by offering little or no support as he endured torture and was sentenced to death.

In testimony before a House of Commons committee, Mr. Sampson said that Ottawa let him down during his imprisonment and then, after he was released, reneged on a promise to cover his medical bills, only days before he was scheduled to have heart surgery.

"I do not feel that, throughout my long incarceration, I was at all supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs. ...I was fighting alone, in solitary confinement, because of the behaviour of your officials," he said.
"I do believe that a public inquiry into the behaviour of the Canadian government officials, both here in Ottawa and at the embassy in Riyadh, is essential, given their performance during my incarceration."

Mr. Sampson was arrested in Saudi Arabia after a series of bombings that Riyadh attributed to foreign bootleggers, but which others said were caused by Islamist rebels. Beaten repeatedly, he is still undergoing regular medical treatment three months after his release.

Sharply contradicting Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham - who said Tuesday that it can be counterproductive for diplomats to use "fiery rhetoric" and threats - Mr. Sampson argued that these cases call for the strongest possible condemnation, including publicly questioning whether governments that torture have the right to international standing.

Citing Theodore Roosevelt's famous maxim, Mr. Sampson told a House of Commons committee that a government has to be willing to use "a big stick" to protect citizens held in foreign jails.

"I am not convinced that the soft-power argument worked in my case," he said in Ottawa. "Because of the political clout that Saudi Arabia supposedly has, people were hiding behind the soft-power argument to do nothing."

"Each of us needs to know that, in future, governments will take a much harder line," he said, arguing that flouting of human rights needs to be publicized on the floor of the United Nations, at the WTO and every possible venue.

In contrast, he said, embassy officials appeared perfectly willing to accept Saudi assurances that he was indeed guilty of the bombings, one of them telling his father that the case was very similar to bootlegger wars in Montreal.

"To have members of the Canadian embassy making statements like that, at the time that they were, were contrary to my best interests and contrary to the best interests of my family," he said. "It would appear that the Department of Foreign Affairs operated from the earliest stages as if I was guilty, long before I even had a trial."

He was cutting when Aileen Caroll, parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, tried to protest that the Canadian government always starts from a presumption of innocence and had always taken his case seriously.

"You may well have been, once you realized the full seriousness of this, but by that stage I had been in prison for a year and by that stage I was already sentenced to death," he said, leaving her grasping for a response.

Sampson finally sees son in Saudi jail

Have the Saudis and Canadians picked the wrong guy to play politics with?

Barbara Sampson

The father of a man imprisoned in a Saudi jail on a charge of taking part in a bombing campaign was able to visit his son Tuesday for the first time since July, 2001.

James Sampson told CTV Newsnet via telephone from Riyadh that he saw his William for about 20 seconds on Tuesday.

However, his son, who has spent most of his time in jail in solitary confinement and is facing the death sentence in connection with the December, 2000, bombing campaign, became agitated at the sight of his father.

"Well, when I went in he was lying on a bed covered by a blanket and chained by his ankles to a bedpost," Mr. Sampson told the television station.

"He told me to leave. I said, I wasn't [going to leave]. I was there to speak to him. Then he told me again to leave and then he jumped up and out of the bed and punched me on the chest," Mr. Sampson said.

William then began to throw things at a number of Saudi officials who were also in the room, prompting them to rush out, Mr. Sampson said.

He said his son "looks better" than the last time he saw him. At that time, William Sampson was weak and emaciated.

"He's still full of spirit and spite," Mr. Sampson said.

James Sampson said there is nothing more he and his son can do but wait.

It is Mr. Sampson's fourth trip since his son was arrested more than two years ago in connection with the December, 2000, bombing in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Sampson saw his son twice during his first visit in 2001, but has had no contact since then.

The pharmaceutical engineer faces beheading in the bombing death of Briton Christopher Rodway, though Saudis have not carried out any such sentence against a Westerner in half a century.

Authorities in the strict Muslim kingdom, where alcohol is banned, contend that the bombings were part of a turf war between bootleggers.

Others point to continued bombings and say the Saudis are trying to cover up a potentially embarrassing campaign by militant fundamentalists.

A ruling on Mr. Sampson's appeal to the highest Saudi judicial body has not been reached.

Sampson: integrity and strong character

James Sampson

Fifth Estate, shown in Dec. 2002, interviewed another Canadian who was freed from a similar situation to Sampson's. It was a diplomatic manouevre and part of the deal was that the freed party shut up. He broke his silence partially by agreeing to be interviewed in shadow by Linden MacIntyre for the television show.

The evidence presented on fifth estate leaves no doubt that Sampson's "confession" was coerced. The degree of "coercion" - - make that word torture - - would have been extreme given Sampson's stubbornness.

The question we must all be asking is this: Why is the Canadian diplomatic community not doing the same for Bill Sampson? The 43 year old Canadian, will no longer take visits. We can only speculate upon the details of what has transpired to put him in this frame of mind. Others who have been released help us fill in the blanks regarding the intensity of the torture.

The question is partially answered. While friends and family all agree that Bill Sampson was a generous, courageous human being who would help out anyone in a jam, they also acknowledged he had little patience for injustice.

His father is proud of him for refusing to "play nice" with his torturers. As long as Sampson is fighting back, he is strong. Sampson's father has been to visit but will not go back any more. He and his son share a strong sense that there is no dignity in begging for mercy or apologizing to corrupt authorities. It would seem that Sampson agreed to go on TV with the phony confession only to let his father know where he was. Once the elder Sampson learned of his son's situation he confronted Canadian authorities asking why he had not been told. The answer, that they were prevented by the Privacy Act from telling him, receives the scorn it deserves.

Saudi Defence Lawyers

Others have escaped the wrath of the corrupt Saudi regime by cooperating. Bill Sampson, it would seem, is an "unruly" client. His softspoken Saudi defence lawyers agree he is "rude" but will not be the first to say the words. They also agree his is most certainly innocent of the crime of setting the car-bomb which blew up British national Christopher Rodway. They were assigned to Sampson only after he had been found guilty.

What would appear to be decorum on the part of the Saudi lawyers and the Canadian government can also be seen as murderous hypocrisy.

It is Bill Sampson's loud-mouthed Dad who has brought his case to public attention, leading to the possibility we would learn about others who have shared similar unlawful detentions and torturous conditions.

William Sampson and father

Dad raised Bill well. He describes an incident when the two of them were mountain climbing and he fell into a crevasse and then had a heart attack. Bill did not hesitate to extract his Dad and carry him back down the mountain. The strong bond between them -- and their strong ethics and belief in doing the right thing -- stand as an example we could all do well to emulate.

Bill Sampson is facing execution by beheading. Nonetheless he is firm and uncompromising. Certainly he is aware that his father knows the confession is bogus. He may or may not know that a Belgian, who was also tortured and coerced, traded implication of Sampson in the bombing for an 8 year sentence. The Belgian paramedic did so on the advice of diplomats.

By conducting himself in such a way that the story can come out, Bill Sampson could very likely save himself and others; he has already blown the international whistle on the fact that diplomacy among spineless suits is a sham. The Canadians who are putting North American oil interests ahead of human life are being exposed.

The "polite" way doesn't get far. Bill Sampson's mother had written to Canadian officials only to be told that making waves about Bill might make matters worse for him.

Canadian, Briton voice complaints of torture working in Saudi Arabia

Ron Jones

Two more Westerners -- one of them a Canadian -- have stepped forward with allegations that they were tortured by Saudi officials who wanted them to confess to bombings in Riyadh.

The allegations will be aired tonight on the CBC program The Fifth Estate.

Ron Jones, a British accountant, was injured in a bomb blast outside a bookstore in Riyadh in March, 2001. He said he suffered scorching along the left side of his body, but was taken from hospital to a jail where he was beaten with a cane on the soles of his feet in an attempt to get him to confess to the bombing that injured him.

"He just swung this cane on to the soles of my feet and then he screamed at me, 'Don't move your feet.' The pain was absolutely excruciating," Mr. Jones said.

"I was screaming 'I haven't done anything, why are you doing this?' and the more I screamed, the more they hit.

"I remember saying to them, 'I'll tell you anything you want, just please don't hit me again.' "

Mr. Jones had been in the company of a Canadian at the time of the bookstore bombing. The Canadian was also detained by Saudi authorities and said he suffered beatings and sleep deprivation during his 60 days in a Saudi jail. He was spirited from the country by Canadian authorities, who told him not to talk to the press. His name has never been released and he has requested anonymity.

Mr. Jones, now back in Britain, said he, too, was released after 67 days when officials became convinced he had nothing to do with the bombing. But after making the decision to release him, officials waited three weeks before letting him go.

"My hands were black, my feet were black, my buttocks were black. They had to build me back up mentally, physically, get my story correct as to why I'd been there," Mr. Jones said.

Saudi authorities claim the bombings, which began in November, 2000, when a British engineer was killed as he drove home from a garden store with his wife, are the result of a turf war between Western bootleggers, a theory the bootleggers themselves have dismissed as ludicrous.

Mr. Jones had no connection to the illegal liquor trade.

Bill Sampson, 43, a Nova Scotia-born biochemist, has been sentenced to death for his alleged role in the bombings. Sandy Mitchell, a Briton, has also been sentenced to die. Both men were convicted at secret trials. Their case has been under review by the Supreme Judicial Council since this summer.

Canadian officials have said they expect a political solution to the matter, but do not know when it will be resolved.

Despite the numerous allegations of torture that have been made by Westerners arrested and released in connection with the bombings, Canadian officials say they cannot confirm that Mr. Sampson has been similarly tortured, despite the fact that even his lawyers have said he was tortured in order to elicit a confession.

In the CBC program, which airs at 9 p.m., Prince Turki al Faisal, the ambassador-designate to Britain, defends the Saudi practice of public beheadings, the fate that awaits Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mitchell if they cannot win reprieves.

"We do not consider the punishment of beheading as either abhorrent or against human rights. Why? Because it comes to us from divine law and the kingdom operates under divine law -- Sharia -- and Sharia is the word of God," said Prince al Faisal.

Earlier this month a court in the United States issued a summons against al Faisal, alleging that in his previous job as head of Saudi intelligence, he helped fund Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

Members of O.J. 'dream team' to help fight for jailed Canadian

Johnnie Cochran

TORONTO - Two of the lawyers from the legal "dream team" that secured an acquittal for O.J. Simpson have joined the fight to free Bill Sampson, the Canadian sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

Johnnie Cochran and Barry Scheck both said yesterday they would try to help the Canadian, who has been in prison in Saudi Arabia for nearly two years.

"This case has not been handled appropriately, "Mr. Cochran said at a press conference to launch a weekend meeting in Toronto of experts from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who work to secure the release of the wrongfully convicted.

"Certainly a death sentence would be an abomination under the circumstances, and all of us are diminished by that. It affects us all over the world. I think it's imperative that people of good conscience stand up and speak out against this kind of wrong," he said.

Mr. Scheck pledged the support of his organization, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, which pioneered the field of overturning wrongful convictions.

Mr. Cochran said he would be prepared to travel to Saudi Arabia with members of the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC), which was instrumental in securing the release of Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard, among others.

Two weeks ago, representatives from AIDWYC met with the Saudi ambassador to Canada to discuss the Sampson case, including the possibility of travelling to Riyadh to meet with Mr. Sampson and Saudi authorities.

Mr. Sampson, a 43-year-old biochemist, has been held in solitary confinement for nearly two years, since two car explosions in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, killed one Briton and injured several others. Saudi authorities blamed the blasts on a turf war over the illegal liquor trade in the Muslim kingdom, but the bombings have continued unabated since the arrest of Mr. Sampson and other Westerners.

Mr. Sampson and Sandy Mitchell, a Briton, were sentenced to death in secret trials for their purported roles in the bombings. An appeal of their case now rests before the Supreme Judicial Council. If it fails, the final appeal rests with the Royal Court.

"We never can give up in this case of Bill Sampson, we have to keep fighting and ultimately, I believe we're going to prevail," said Mr. Cochran. He called Mr. Sampson's solitary confinement "torture."

"It is something we should not have to tolerate in a civilized world."

Mr. Sampson has only recently been allowed writing implements in his cell. Mr. Scheck said The Innocence Project intends to draw public attention in the United States to the Sampson case.

"By focusing attention in the United States as well as Canada and the United Kingdom on this case, that will affect the government of Saudi Arabia. It's just inevitable," he said.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor and lawyer who famously won an acquittal for Claus von Bulow in a case that was made into a Hollywood movie, said he is not familiar with the Sampson case but is interested in miscarriages of justice, including anything involving the Saudi justice system.

"I'm certainly glad that Barry Scheck and Johnnie Cochran are involved in it."

James Sampson, Mr. Sampson's father, travelled from Surrey, B.C., to attend the AIDWYC conference this weekend. He also attended the press conference and praised Mr. Cochran's decision to become involved in the case.

In response to a question during the press conference yesterday, Mr. Cochran also stepped into the debate over racial profiling.

"I know that in a post-9/11 world, the world has changed somewhat, but I for one do not believe we should still engage in racial profiling. We should certainly be alert in the war against terrorism, but you can't stop somebody because of their ethnicity, because of their race."

He said police should not engage in racial profiling, and described a $13-million suit he won against the State of New Jersey after state troopers shot up a car in which three black students and a Puerto Rican student were travelling.

"It's only those who stand up in times of great crisis like this who we can call, I think, courageous," he said.

He said racial profiling has become so common that jokes among members of the black community about being pulled over for "DWB" -- driving while black -- have become part of their lexicon.

Advocates encouraged by words of Saudi ambassador on Canadian facing death

OTTAWA (CP) - The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted came away from meeting the Saudi ambassador Thursday encouraged about the fate of Bill Sampson, the Canadian sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia.

Three directors of the group met with Ambassador Mohammed al-Hussaini for almost two hours, expressing concern over allegations confessions were tortured out of Sampson and his co-defendants.

"We told him our association questions the veracity of the confession that Mr. Sampson is alleged to have made to the authorities and then subsequently did make on Saudi Arabian television," said James Lockyer, a director.

'Hurricane' Rubin Carter

"Since this was the only evidence against any of the people, we questioned the veracity of their guilt."

The group, including executive director Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, told al-Hussaini they oppose the death penalty, particularly "in a case where it seems likely that the people who have been convicted in fact did not commit the crimes with which they have been charged."

Hurricane Carter was imprisoned for 20 years in New Jersey for a murder he didn't commit.

Sampson, 43, and a Briton were sentenced to death at a secret trial for their alleged roles in car bombings in Riyadh in 2000 that killed Briton Christopher Rodway and injured several others.

Sampson, locked in solitary confinement for almost two years, faces beheading if his conviction is upheld. A ruling had been expected from Saudi Arabia's highest judicial body, the Supreme Council, in September, but has still not come.

"The ambassador was really very hopeful with us," said Lockyer. "He told us that, as far as he was concerned, there had been no final verdict in the case, which we saw as encouraging.

"He also told us that, in his view, the delay . . . in the announcement of a final verdict should be considered good news."

Al-Hussaini also reminded them that under Koranic law, the victim's family has the final say on sentencing. Rodway's family has already said it doesn't believe any of the six arrested in the case had anything to do with it.

Lockyer said Carter's presence had an "obvious effect" on the ambassador.

The group was instrumental in exonerating two other Canadians who were wrongly jailed, Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard.

It wants to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia, but al-Hussaini thought it unlikely they would be allowed into the country.

The group pointed out that all the defendants looked haggard in their televised confessions, that they were reading them and that all used similar, stilted English that sounded like it was written by a foreigner.

The December 2000 bombing was one of a series authorities in the strictly Muslim country claim were linked to a black market in forbidden alcohol.

Sampson's defenders point out that the bombings have continued since the arrests and contend they are the work of anti-western extremists the government is trying to cover up.

A member of the defence team has said prison officials claim Sampson's mental health is deteriorating.

He has refused visits and legal help, stopped taking his heart medication, thrown things around his cell and verbally abused his guards.

But Carter said Sampson's actions reflect those of an innocent man.

"I am not unmindful of being condemned with the imposition of death hanging over my head," said Carter. "His attitude right now, to me, is the attitude that one would display if one were innocent of a crime.

"I can understand that very well."

Carter, the subject of the 1999 movie The Hurricane starring Denzel Washington, said in his own case he refused to obey prison rules, wear prison clothing, eat prison food or work prison jobs.

'We'll get you out'

James Sampson knows his son's life is on the line.

But he won't concede that a murder trial in a Saudi Arabian court will end in a guilty verdict for his son William - and a possible punishment of death by beheading.

"He didn't do this," James Sampson said Monday from his South Surrey home.

"If I could see him now, I'd tell him to stay tough. Just sit it out, we'll get you out."

Sampson's son, former Vancouver businessman William (Bill) Sampson, is on trial for his alleged role in a car bomb attack in Riyadh, in which a British man was killed.

Saudi officials claim it was part of a turf war between rivals involved in illegal alcohol trade.

But Sampson believes his son was a "scapegoat" to cover the actions of "Arab and Saudi terrorist groups."

Conflicting reports have emerged from Saudi Arabia over the past 18 months since Sampson's arrest in December 2000.

In late April, he was said to have been secretly tried and convicted and already on death row.

But the Saudi ambassador to Canada said last week that an official trial process had only just begun.

This was the first formal statement in months and Sampson said he still doesn't know the full story.

"And the way they operate, who knows if and when we will be told," he said.

Sampson said officials of Canada's Foreign Affairs department had been in contact with him as recently as Monday morning but could provide little new information.

"It is so hard for anyone to get information, but it seems to me that the legal process for a trial has begun and that things are moving ahead, however slowly, but at least something is happening."

The last time James Sampson spoke to his son was July last year. Then, Bill was behind bars in a Saudi prison cell, and three guards listened in on their conversation.

Sampson has not spoken to his son since and has had to rely on a trickle of information to know of Bill's condition and his case.

"This has been just hell for the past year and a half," he said. "(I feel) bloody anger, it's frustration, you name it."

Sampson said he was unsure if he should go to Saudi Arabia for the trial.

"It's not an easy place to get access to and who knows how long this process might take; it could be three, four, five months?

"I say this, if it would help my son for me to be over there, then yes, I would go straight away.

"But I don't know if my being there would help the situation, it might stir things up."

Sampson said he hoped his son was acquitted but has told himself " the Saudis will do what suits them best."

"They will want to save face."

He said it has been 30 years since a convicted Westerner was beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

"That, at least, is in our favour."

Jailed Canadian's future darkens

Ottawa - William Sampson's future is in doubt after one of seven westerners imprisoned in Saudi Arabia on bombing charges dramatically changed his testimony and confessed to the crime.

Foreign Affairs officials in Ottawa say it's too early to say how the plea for clemency by Briton James Lee will affect the others, including Mr. Sampson, the Canadian who faces beheading for murder in the bombing incident.

The Times of London quoted a legal source Tuesday as saying: "The Saudis take the view: 'One guilty, all guilty.'"

Mary Martini, the ex-wife of another Briton arrested with Sampson in December 2000, said families are stunned by Mr. Lee's admission. She fears it could ruin any chance that the men, who have been in custody for more than two years, will be released soon.

The prisoners had been awaiting the outcome of an appeal to Saudi Arabia's highest judicial body. It had been expected by the end of September.

Other detainees have told British diplomats in recent weeks that Mr. Lee, 40, suffered a breakdown in prison. They said he kept bursting into tears and threatened suicide.

Mr. Lee was moved suddenly from the al-Hajr high security prison to Riyadh's secret police headquarters - where interrogations are conducted - six weeks ago. The British Embassy was not told.

Mr. Sampson's father, James, said it's obvious Mr. Lee has caved to Saudi torture.

"I'm not surprised," Mr. Sampson said in a telephone interview. "The Saudis have been working toward this all along.

"It means my son is in there and he's not getting out anytime soon."

Mr. Sampson's lawyers could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

British diplomats in Riyadh told The Times they were astonished by Mr. Lee's written confession and his plea for clemency from Crown Prince Abdullah. They are demanding urgent talks with Saudi authorities.

Canadian officials were checking the situation in the Saudi capital, said Foreign Affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron.

James Sampson has applied for a visa to go to Saudi Arabia and try to see his son, who has spent most of his captivity in solitary confinement.

Authorities in the strict Muslim kingdom where alcohol is banned claim the bombings were part of a turf war between rival bootleggers.

But others point to continued bombings and say the Saudis are trying to cover up a campaign by militants against westerners.

Families of the victims and survivors of the attacks have said they don't believe the westerners were responsible.

Some have said they will exercise their right under Koranic law to reject so-called blood money and ask for clemency for all once the case has run its course.

Under Koranic law, relatives of victims can demand money in place of the legal penalty for crimes.

Early on, some of the prisoners, including Mr. Sampson, made televised confessions to the crimes but later recanted, claiming they'd been tortured.

Mr. Sampson and another man received death sentences for murder for their alleged roles in the bombing that killed Briton Christopher Rodway. The others got 18 years, except Belgian Raf Schyvens, who maintained his confession and was sentenced to eight years.

A diplomatic source told The Times that now that Mr. Lee has confessed, "the Saudis can say all ... are guilty and ask for blood money for their victims."