Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Peru drug arrests: 'Doubts' cast over claims by girls

Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly, both 20, are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine

The head of the police investigation into drug-trafficking charges against two women has cast doubts over claims they were coerced into attempting to smuggle cocaine out of Peru.

Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly, both 20, are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine.

 

They claim they were forced at gunpoint to make the journey from the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza - where they had been working in bars - after being befriended by a man from London.

 

They have told police they were shadowed by gang members throughout the journey and warned that if they did not pick up the drugs in Peru and bring them back to Spain their families would be killed.

 

However, police have said the women had several opportunities to alert the authorities.

 

The head of the Ibiza police unit responsible for countering organised crime, first sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, said he did not believe they were acting under duress.

 

"In my experience I don't think these two girls were forced to do this because - particularly when you go to South America - you need to pass several controls," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

 

"The first thing you do is go to the passport control and say 'Listen, this is what is happening to me'. The policeman will react so I don't think they were forced."

 

The girls, Ms Reid, from Scotland, and Ms McCollum Connolly from Dungannon, Co Tyrone in Northern Ireland, were arrested last week as they attemtped to leave the Peruvian capital, Lima, on a flight to Spain.

 

Police said they found more than 24lb (11kg) of cocaine in food packaging in the women's luggage when they were arrested on August 6 at Lima airport.

 

The pair told police that they had been unable to go to the authorities as the gang had threatened to kill their families if they did not cooperate. They also claim they were robbed of passports and phones and followed as they traveled on separate flights to Peru. The National Police of Peru has since released a video of the women being questioned after their arrest.

 

In the video, Ms Reid is heard saying: "I was forced to take these bags in my luggage".

 

Yesterday photographs emerged of Ms Reid's father meeting his daughter after flying out to Lima. He has said there was no way she would be willingly involved in the smuggling of drugs.

 

Ms McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden says his client was threatened by up to 14 men with guns. Madden said McCollum was not offered any money.

 

If charged and found guilty the girls could face lengthy prison sentences.

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