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Drug smuggler Michaella McCollum 'wants to be a help to young people'

Convicted cocaine trafficke reveals she wants to be an anti-narcotics campaigner following parole release from Peru prison

By Nevin Farrell

Published 04/04/2016

Michaella McCollum during her exclusive first interview with the Irish broadcaster RTE (RTE/PA)
Michaella McCollum during her exclusive first interview with the Irish broadcaster RTE (RTE/PA)
Michaella McCollum during her first interview release from prison in Peru
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of her club hostess outfits
Michaella McCollum after her arrest
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Michaella and Melissa caught on CCTV loading bags into a car in Peru
Michaella McCollum's mother Norah McCollum and sister Samantha McCollum vist the Peru prison
Melissa Reid
Michaella McCollum and ex-boyfriend Dwayne Mullan
Dungannon drugs mule Michaella McCollum
PARTY SCENE: Michaella in Ibiza
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of the Ibiza clubs where she worked as a dancer
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru, clutching the book 'Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know: Ten principles for spiritual and emotional fulfillment' (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly arrives to court for her sentencing in Callao, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
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 with reality TV star Mark Wright at a promotional night hosted by Belfast's M Club
Michaella McCollum Connolly with Brad Houston from England
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly with rugby star Tommy Bowe while doing promotional work at an official Ulster Rugby event
Michaella McCollum arriving for her court hearing in Lima in December 2013

Convicted drugs mule Michaella McCollum has revealed that she wants to become an anti-narcotics campaigner to prevent people from going through the jail hell she has just emerged from.

In her first interview since being released from prison in Peru, the glamorous 23-year-old appeared on television to claim that she had repented and now realises that her attempt to smuggle £1.5m worth of drugs into Europe was wrong.

The Dungannon woman said she had to complete the rest of her sentence on parole in Peru - which is four years - but there is an opportunity to apply for expulsion which would mean she being deported back to Northern Ireland.

She will apply for that and hopes to be home as soon as possible.

McCollum said she now wanted to help steer young people away from drugs.

"I want to be a help to young people, to prevent them from committing this kind of crime; to prevent people who have went off the way of life to help put them back on a good way; to show people that after a bad decision you can turn your life around," she told RTE One.

There was a mixed reaction on social media to the interview but many people were cynical, believing McCollum is trying to set herself up to make money out of what she did by writing a book or selling the rights to a movie.

In the RTE programme entitled 'Prison in Peru: Michaella's first interview' McCollum had a new look and was barely recognisable from when she was last seen in public.

Instead of her dark hair being tied up in a bun, she had long blonde hair and was wearing red lipstick.

The convicted drugs mule, one of the so-called Peru Two, was released from prison last Thursday.

Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of her club hostess outfits
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of her club hostess outfits
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of the Ibiza clubs where she worked as a dancer
PARTY SCENE: Michaella in Ibiza
Michaella McCollum after her arrest
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Michaella and Melissa caught on CCTV loading bags into a car in Peru
Michaella McCollum's mother Norah McCollum and sister Samantha McCollum vist the Peru prison
Melissa Reid
Michaella McCollum and ex-boyfriend Dwayne Mullan
Dungannon drugs mule Michaella McCollum
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru, clutching the book 'Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know: Ten principles for spiritual and emotional fulfillment' (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly arrives to court for her sentencing in Callao, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
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 with reality TV star Mark Wright at a promotional night hosted by Belfast's M Club
Michaella McCollum Connolly with Brad Houston from England
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly with rugby star Tommy Bowe while doing promotional work at an official Ulster Rugby event

McCollum and Melissa Reid, from Scotland, were imprisoned in 2013 for six years and eight months after admitting trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5m from Peru to Spain. The two women had been held at the Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima. However, they were later transferred to the Ancon 2 facility.

The Tyrone woman was a photography student and dancer living in Belfast and she said it was sectarianism that forced her to go to Spain, where her problems started.

She said she was told to leave an area where she was living in Belfast in 2013 because of her religion.

McCollum decided to go to Ibiza where she said she was targeted by a drugs gang who promised her money if she agreed to a drugs run.

Before trying to board a plane with the drugs in Peru she said she was "too scared to walk away".

When detected by police and strip-searched she said: "I wanted to crawl up in a ball and die."

She feared she could have been in jail for 15 years.

She said she found it difficult to phone her mum and tell her the news but in prison she decided to work in a beauty salon to learn a new trade.

McCollum revealed she was delighted her mother Norah was waiting at the prison gates last week when she was released.

"Seeing my mother there broke my heart, that this is the end that my mum is here to take me back home."

"It feels like a dream, it feels like it is not real. It feels like I am going to wake up any moment and be back in a nightmare.

"It was a world I had forgotten, waking up in a bed, having your family next to you."

McCollum added she had been young and naive to get involved in the drugs trade but said she was not "a bad person". She said she had now learnt a lot and said she "made a decision in a moment without thinking". She admitted: "I potentially could have hurt a lot of people, I potentially could have filled Europe with a lot of drugs. I can see the harm I could have done to people who consume drugs. If the drugs had got back I probably would have had a lot of blood on my hands."

She added her family wanted to know why she did it.

"They know I am a good girl, that I have never been in trouble with the law before. I have never intentionally set out to hurt somebody and I guess that is why they supported me because they know I was just a young girl who made a mistake."

She said she was "totally grateful for my mother, this is the love each mother has for their daughter. I would love some day to do the same for my daughter and be an amazing mother like my mum was for me".

Her solicitor Kevin Winters explained how she came to be released last Thursday.

"She made an application to apply for parole with benefits. Firstly she had to serve a sentence of two years and three months. She's done that," he said.

"Secondly she had to undergo psychological profiling and she submitted herself to analysis.

"She had to be seen to be someone who was undergoing work and various studies so the cumulative effect of all of that meant that Michaella McCollum became eligible for the earlier release scheme under this parole process."

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