Belfast Telegraph

Michaella McCollum: Drug gang made me do it says Dungannon woman

Mule repeats claims as she admits using cocaine

BY CLAIRE WILLIAMSON

Drugs mule Michaella McCollum still insists a Colombian drug gang forced her to carry cocaine, even claiming that as police found the drugs in her luggage gang members were phoning her on her mobile.

She made her claims despite admitting she was caught up in drug-taking while working on the party island of Ibiza, where she said she was ensnared into the cocaine plot.

The Dungannon woman spoke to the Sunday Life from inside the harsh Peruvian prison where, along with Scottish woman Melissa Reid, they have been sentenced to six years and eight months for attempting to smuggle more than 11kg of cocaine worth £1.5m out of the South American country.

But they were caught before they even reached the check-in desk at the airport in the capital Lima.

"As soon as we walked in the security guard knew who we were, what we looked like, and what we had. The dogs hadn't even sniffed our cases," Michaella said.

"They opened up Melissa's bag and then the packages. They didn't even open mine in front of me.

"Then we told them that we had been forced, but they didn't listen. Our phones were even ringing while we were being questioned.

"It was them (the gang). I told the guards to let me answer it so I could find out where they were, or they could track the call, but they refused. It's easy to track a call.

"Looking back now, I know we were used."

In her first interview since being jailed, the 20-year-old gave an insight in to her life in Ibiza before the Peru prison ordeal.

"Yes, I took some drugs in Ibiza, but I wasn't a cokehead," Michaella said.

"Everyone does it, I don't think I knew anyone out there that didn't. It was normal to go straight from work to a party with people you maybe didn't even know because most of the people out there, like me, came over by themselves to work.

"Now I look back and think, how stupid was I?"

Parties are now a distant memory for the former photography student who has swapped crowded clubs for an overcrowded, dank prison cell.

The convicted drugs smuggler is aware that her story of events hasn't convinced many people, including the Peruvian authorities.

Prosecutors rejected the claims and pressed the pair to tell them who provided the drugs found hidden in food packets in their luggage as they tried to travel to Madrid.

While she accepted there were many chances to alert the police, she maintained her account of the days that turned her world as she knew it upside down.

It was at a house party after work where Michaella met people who had returned from Barcelona. She was asked if she wanted to go back with them the next day and she said yes. She went to her apartment with known drug dealer 'Jake' who helped her pack before returning to the "dingy" house party.

"My passport was taken off me and I was told I was going to Majorca, not Barcelona," Michaella said.

The next morning Michaella said she first met Melissa Reid at the airport.

Throughout their trial the pair maintained that a gang forced them to smuggle the drugs.

Michaella described the gang of three men and a woman.

"They were all in their 40s and looked like gangsters," she said.

"They (the men) were sleazy, especially the Colombian.

"He kept touching my face and calling me princess. All of them kept saying to us that we had to go and do a job for them and there was no turning back now."

Michaella claimed she was locked in a house for four days.

Their mobile phones and passports were then removed.

Michaella said she realised it was drugs they were going to carry as the gang kept saying "coca".

Michaella claimed the gang then produced photos of her family and threatened her.

In response to why the pair didn't alert someone to their situation along the way, Michaella said they were too scared.

"If we had rang the police and said, 'oh hello, we have drugs here and we were forced to carry them', they would have just come to the hotel and arrested us. We were too scared," she said.

"Looking back now I wish I had, but it's easy to look back and think that. I felt like we were being watched the whole time."

Life is now a daily struggle in prison hellhole

She would rather spend 90 years in a prison in Northern Ireland than another day in Peru.

A cell block with concrete tiles covered in dust and walls caked in dirt is what convicted drugs mule Michaella McCollum has called home for the past five months.

The Dungannon woman has spoken of what it has been like living in Fatima, a Peruvian jail which holds 400 males and females, and how much she misses home.

The 20-year-old broke down in tears as she recalled the first phone call she made to her mum.

"As soon as she heard my voice she screamed: 'Michaella! My baby! I'm so glad you are OK, I thought you were dead'.

"Then I said: 'Mummy, I'm in jail in Peru.' The phone went silent. It was the hardest phone call."

Michaella found out later that her mum was rushed to hospital with pains in her chest.

"I can't believe I did that to her, I nearly killed her with the stress," Michaella said.

The aspiring model's world is a stark contrast to the glamorous life she was living on the Spansh holiday island of Ibiza. When she was brought to the jail, Michaella had to be pushed into the cell.

"I refused to go in to the cell and one of the guards had to push me inside, I just fell to the floor and started to cry."

She said: "We've had a few stomach bugs in here, the water is bad, you can't drink it. I've seen it come out of a tap brown before.

"The food is awful. There's rice and beans every day, and the rice sometimes has hair in it – human hair."

The language barrier is proving a difficult challenge for Michaella and she has often had to resort to motions to articulate what she is saying.

"There's only one toilet for 100 women, that you are only allowed to use at certain times

"Even if you are bursting to go, you can't," Michaella said.

Unlike other jails where inmates are forced to work, so far the two women have chosen what they do each day.

"We've tried beauty (classes) but we can't take notes because we just don't understand.

"I do aerobics in the evening, but apart from that I would just be sitting in the room and reading."

Michaella said there was so much she missed from home.

"My wee niece Ava was born, and I missed my cousin's wedding in September. I have missed so much, and when you start to think about that, that's when it gets hard."

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