Belfast Telegraph

Michaella McCollum video shows model relaxed despite Peru drug charges

By Breda Heffernan, Fiona Ellis, Hannah Popham and Joanne Sweeney

New video footage has emerged of Northern Ireland model Michaella McCollum Connolly in police custody in Peru in which she appears relaxed, notwithstanding the serious drugs charges facing her.

In the footage, taken seven days after her arrest alongside her Scottish friend Melissa Reid on suspicion of trafficking £1.5m worth of cocaine, Ms Connolly tells a reporter she is "alright" as she eats a snack.

Asked is she getting enough to eat, she replies: "To eat, yes; to drink, no."

"I don't really want to talk to any journalists at any stage," she says, at which point Ms Reid adds: "It wasn't our choice for it to go in the media."

And it is reported this morning in a UK newspaper that Melissa said: "We had no option, we weren't smuggling for money, we were smuggling for our lives."

The footage emerged as it was confirmed that the two women are due to attend a meeting with an attorney from the public prosecutor's office to discuss the case.

The meeting, which is normal in such cases, is held in private at the anti-drugs police headquarters, where the women are being held.

It will be held in private and is due to take place as early as today or tomorrow with interpreters in attendance.

 

 

But while the two women appeared relaxed in the video footage, former Irish consul general, Michael Russell, who visited the women in police custody last night, has warned that the two women will be "like lambs to the slaughter" unless they get the best legal advice.

Ms Connolly (20) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Ms Reid (19), from Glasgow, are understood to have told visitors that they were held at gunpoint by a group of Colombians and were taken to Morocco before being brought to Peru, where they were ordered to carry the drugs.

Mr Russell said it was "highly unlikely" that Ms Connolly -- who was born in Monaghan and travelled on an Irish passport -- would be able to "walk away" from her arrest on suspicion of drug trafficking.

He added that it was now crucial that she be represented by an English-speaking lawyer who is experienced in drug-smuggling cases.

Otherwise, he said, she and Ms Reid would be "like lambs to the slaughter."

He said: "Unfortunately, I think it is highly unlikely that the young women will walk away from this. There is no dispute that they had the cocaine in their luggage but there will be investigations into where and how they got it and if they knew what was in the packages.

"And in these cases in Peru, it's not that you know what happened but what you can prove and what a judge believes.

"I have been working with foreign arrests of this type for 10 years and I have only known of one case where the man walked away and that was because the amount he was carrying was so small as to be close to being judged for his personal use.

"It will be up to the women to prove that they were forced into carrying this. But the fact that Michaella was reported as missing by her family is interesting. It might help her claims."

The women have been visited in custody by Irish-American Archbishop Sean Walsh, who said they told him they were threatened by a group of Colombians and forced to carry the drugs.

Archbishop Walsh, a member of the Eastern Catholic Church who ministers to prisoners in Peru, said people in Ireland could help by donating to a fund so Ms Connolly can hire a lawyer who, he said, would be more effective than a state-appointed public defender.

He said: "My impression is they may very well plead innocent for reasons of coercion ... my advice would be if they are innocent to maintain their position no matter what they are threatened with, and to try to come up with the best evidence they can to support their position," he told RTE's 'Liveline'.

Major Manuel Siclla, the police officer leading the investigation, said: "The same as any person involved in drug trafficking, they will be brought to court and they will face long prison sentences if they are found guilty. We take this problem very seriously in Peru."

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