Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Doubt cast on girls' drugs claims

Belfast Solicitor Peter Madden will represent Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Dungannon, one of the women held on suspicion of drug smuggling.

Spanish police have cast doubt on claims by two women from the UK arrested in Peru for cocaine smuggling that they were forced to carry the drugs by armed gang members.

Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly said 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 said 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 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."

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

They are suspected by police of trying to leave the country with 11 kilos of cocaine in their luggage worth 1.75 million euro.

They may be held pre-charge for up to 30 days and could then spend up to three years in prison before a trial.

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