Belfast Telegraph

Peru drug arrests: Michaella set to face judge and deny drug mule charges

By Cormac McQuinn and Aishling Phelan

Suspected drugs mule Michaella McCollum Connolly is expected to publicly protest her innocence when she faces a judge in Peru today.

The 20-year-old and her co-accused, Glaswegian Melissa Reid (19), will claim they were forced into an attempt to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of the country by a drugs gang who threatened them and their families.

If charged, the pair are likely to be transferred from their current detention in a Lima police station to the notorious Santa Monica women's prison.

Ms McCollum Connolly, whose family lives in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, met with her solicitor, Peter Madden, last night as part of the preparations for her defence.

She also met with her brother Keith, who travelled to Peru on Friday.

Mr Madden said he and his client discussed various media reports that cast doubt on the women's claim that they were forced into making the smuggling attempt at gunpoint.

Ms McCollum Connolly had been working in Ibiza as a nightclub hostess when she disappeared, with sources there saying she had run up a £3,500 debt with an English drug dealer. They said she tried to smuggle the cocaine to pay off the debt.

Other reports outlined how Ms Reid was pictured on the island with a group of people who included a convicted criminal who lost an eye in a gangland feud.

Mr Madden said last night: "I've seen some very strange Press reports over the weekend about this case. She totally denies them. Some are just really bizarre."

Mr Madden will appeal Peru's strict anti-narcotics laws that do not allow bail.

If he is unsuccessful, Ms McCollum Connolly could languish in prison for months or even years as she awaits trial, even if she is eventually acquitted. Meanwhile, CCTV footage which could relate to the case has emerged, showing a woman wearing a long black skirt with splits up the sides, similar to the one Ms McCollum Connolly was wearing when she was arrested.

It is being scrutinised by investigators for discrepancies between the video and the girls' version of events, according to a source from Lima Airport's anti-narcotics unit.

The dark-haired woman in the video was seen on camera in the Peruvian capital on August 5 at midday, the same time the two accused told police they were forced to collect the drugs. The woman is seen walking back from a pizza parlour with a large bag towards the Colonial San Agustin Hotel where the pair were staying.

More than 50 hours of footage from a camera outside the hotel has been handed over to police.

Ms McCollum Connolly said she had met a man outside a pizzeria about 150 metres from the hotel. She later said he had given her a bag and ordered her to take it back to the hotel.

If the women are transferred to Santa Monica prison they will arrive at a jail where more than 1,000 women are crammed into a facility built for 400. Prisoners sleep on the floors of cells and corridors, and the spread of disease is a major concern.

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