Belfast Telegraph

Peru drug mule Michaella McCollum 'faces shorter sentence'

Drugs mule could be freed sooner if repatriated, Justice Minster tells MLAs

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Drug mule Michaella McCollum could serve a shorter jail sentence if repatriated to Northern Ireland, it has been revealed. The Co Tyrone woman was imprisoned for six years and eight months after being caught smuggling £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Peru almost two years ago.

Her case was raised during a meeting of the Assembly.

Justice Minister David Ford said: “The expectation is that sentences will be worked out on the basis of our normal provisions from the time when somebody is repatriated to Northern Ireland.

“That is a matter of some detail, which would have to be worked through if there is an agreement by the Peruvian authorities to repatriation.”

McCollum, from Dungannon, and Melissa Reid, from Glasgow, were arrested at Lima Airport in August 2013. Customs officials caught the pair trying to board a flight with 24lbs of cocaine hidden inside food packets in their luggage.

Mr Ford added: “There are certain arrangements which apply as to how sentences are carried through and the precise details which go through depend upon the nature of the sentence within Peru as well as the nature as to how matters would be considered on the basis of a sentence within Northern Ireland.

“Those issues would have to be worked out if there is consent on the part of the Peruvian authorities.”

The women initially claimed they were forced into carrying the drugs but later pleaded guilty. They had faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.

After conviction they were moved from Lima’s Virgen de Fatima Prison to the Ancon 2 prison where up to 30 prisoners are reportedly crammed into a cell.

Mr Ford said they were still awaiting approval from the Peruvian authorities.

He added: “It is a matter of public record that an application has been made by Michaella McCollum which has been accepted within this jurisdiction but which has not yet been accepted in Peru.”

Assembly Members also heard that McCollum would have to pay for her airfare, but the cost of her imprisonment in Northern Ireland would come out of the public purse.

The Scottish Prison Service agreed in principle to a transfer for Reid last year but is still waiting to hear from the Peruvian authorities.

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