Ford paves way for drugs mule Michaella McCollum's return, but Peru to make final call
Peru drugs mule Michaella McCollum could serve the rest of her sentence in Northern Ireland after getting the go-ahead for a transfer from Stormont's Justice Minister.
All necessary paperwork has been sent to Peruvian authorities considering the application, a letter from the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has disclosed.
Melissa Reid, from Scotland, and McCollum, from Co Tyrone, were imprisoned in 2013 for six years and eight months after admitting trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5m from Peru to Spain.
A solicitor has described the conditions of their detention as horrendous.
Stormont minister David Ford said: "After consideration of the facts of this case, including the difficulty encountered in maintaining family contact, I am content to approve the repatriation to Northern Ireland of Michaella McCollum."
McCollum, from Dungannon, and Reid, from Glasgow, were caught trying to board a flight with 24 pounds of cocaine in food packets hidden inside their luggage at Lima airport on August 6, 2013. They were attempting to fly to Spain.
They had claimed they were forced into carrying the drugs but pleaded guilty to charges later that year.
McCollum and Reid faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a behind-closed-doors plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.
Sue McAllister, director general of NIPS, told McCollum's legal team: "I can confirm that the Peruvian authorities have all of the documentation they require to enable them to make a decision on your client's application for repatriation.
"This paperwork includes confirmation that NIPS is prepared to accept her as a transferred prisoner. However, the final decision on the application is a matter for the Peruvian ministry of justice and human rights."
According to McCollum's solicitor Kevin Winters, the logistics of the transfer may be complicated.
Mr Winters said: "It's not a done deal by any means, the Peruvian authorities have yet to sign off on it.
"This is a young lady who simply wants to be back in this jurisdiction with her family."
The Scottish Prison Service agreed in principle to a transfer for Reid last year.
The pair had previously been held at Lima's Virgen de Fatima prison but were moved to the Ancon 2 prison.
Conditions at the mixed prison have previously been criticised by McCollum's lawyer as "appalling".
Mr Winters has said sanitation and toilet facilities are extremely poor.
Michaella McCollum Connolly has now spent two Christmases in prison, 6000 miles away from home. She has been in custody since she and Melissa Reid - both 20 at the time - were stopped at Lima airport on their way to Spain carrying £1.5m worth of cocaine. The pair initially pleaded their innocence, claiming they had been forced to carry the drugs.