Two women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million out of Peru have been refused bail and could spend up to three years in prison awaiting trial, it emerged tonight.
Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, both 20, face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted, the prosecutor's office in Callao, near Lima has said.
Tonight, during a public court appearance, the pair were formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking and were refused bail.
McCollum , from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, and Reid, from Glasgow claim they were forced to carry the drugs - concealed in food packages - by an armed gang who threatened their family members.
But during the hearing, the judge reportedly asked the pair why they did not ask for help when they arrived at Lima airport, to which they replied they were threatened.
They have spent the last two weeks in custody over the drug trafficking allegations but are expected to be transferred to prison to await their trial.
McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden said they were effectively beginning a prison sentence as the pair were told in court it was unlikely they would be granted bail, according to reports.
The pair are at a public hearing in Lima. T he judge questioned why the women did not ask for help when they had the opportunity at Lima airport.
The women told the court they were being threatened by "someone anonymous", according to Sky News.
At the hearing they were informed it could take three years for their trial to get under way should they plead not guilty. They were returned to prison to await trial.
Mr Madden said earlier that he does not know what is going to happen to McCollum and that the conditions she is being held in are "unacceptable".
The pair were pictured yesterday in handcuffs being escorted by officers from the National Police anti-drug headquarters for medical examinations.
Peruvian police said they found around 24lb of cocaine hidden inside food packages as the women attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid.
The women, who both deny the allegations and say they were forced to carry the bags by armed men, are expected to enter not guilty pleas.
They face up to three years in jail before a trial.
Mr Madden said they had effectively begun serving a prison sentence after they were refused bail.
"Their main concern at the minute is that they may be separated, sent to different prisons," he said.
"They are very concerned that might happen. They did not know each other before this started, they have now become best friends."