Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Peru drug arrests: Dungannon woman Michaella McCollum 'forced to carry drugs'

Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid (front) in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid (front) in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Michaella McCollum Connolly is escorted in handcuffs into a car by police as she leaves the National Police anti-drug headquarters
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) as she is moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Lawyer Peter Madden, who is representing Michaella McCollum leaves the National Police anti-drug headquarters in Lima, Peru.
William Reid, father of Melissa Reid, leaves the anti-drug headquarters in Lima where his daughter and Michaella McCollum are being held.

Two women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million out of Peru have given detailed accounts of how they were allegedly forced to carry the drugs.

The Mail on Sunday carried what it said were full statements that Michaella McCollum, from Northern Ireland, and Scot Melissa Reid, had given the authorities.

McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Reid, from Glasgow, have been formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking, and face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted. It could be three years before they even face trial.

The 20-year-olds claim they were forced to carry the drugs by an armed gang who threatened them and their family members.

Peruvian police have said they found around 24lb (11kg) of cocaine hidden inside food packages as the women attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid.

In the statements they tell how they were working in Ibiza and did not meet before they were both kidnapped at gunpoint and forced to travel to Majorca.

They mention individuals allegedly involved in the plot called Jake, who had a London accent, Christian, from Liverpool, Hector, Enrique and Julio, a Peruvian.

On August 5 in Lima they were given packages to carry. Reid said in her statement: " Back at the hotel, Michaella and me started to suspect we were being used to carry drugs back. Enrique called to give us instructions on how to pack the drugs inside our suitcases. He told us to wrap them with our clothes. I started to cry and told him I couldn't do it and he threatened us. He said his friends were constantly watching us and we would be killed if we didn't do exactly as he said."

McCollum said: " One bag had 16 packages, the other 18. They were wrapped in newspaper. While Enrique was speaking with us, we told him we did not want to go on with this. He told us we had to because his friends were waiting for us downstairs and they would be following us on our way to the airport."

Reid said that in the end she felt relieved that the police found the drugs and took charge of everything.

The newspaper also publishes footage showing two women taking bags from a hotel and putting them into a taxi, while being minded by two men. The video was recorded on August 6 at about 6am, just hours before the pair were arrested at Lima airport.

It obtained the footage from a street camera run by Lima's neighbourhood watch service, and quotes a source for the city's prosecution team as saying: "This video could prove to be hugely important. We will examine it carefully and try to track the figures keeping an eye on the girls as they load up the taxi."

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