Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Family to visit Peru drug suspect

Michaella McCollum, left, and Melissa Reid listen to a translator during a hearing at court in Callao, Peru (AP)

Relatives of one of two women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million out of Peru are preparing to visit her in prison.

Michaella McCollum's solicitor is helping her family with arrangements.

The Northern Irish woman and fellow suspect, Scot Melissa Reid, both 20, face a maximum of 15 years in prison if convicted, a Peruvian prosecutor's office in Callao, near Lima, has said. During a court appearance on Wednesday, the pair were formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking and denied bail.

McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Reid, from Glasgow, claim they were forced to carry the drugs - concealed in food packages - by an armed gang who threatened their family members.

During this week's hearing, judge Dilo Huaman asked why they did not ask for help when they arrived at Lima airport, to which they replied that they were threatened by someone anonymous. The prosecutor told the court that their story was "incoherent", according to reports.

McCollum's solicitor is still in Peru. His office said: "Mr Peter Madden, lawyer for Michaella McCollum, is currently dealing with urgent matters pertaining to Michaella's situation in Peru and making arrangements for family visits."

The pair, who were led into court in handcuffs, had already spent two weeks in custody over the drug trafficking allegations and have suffered from a lack of food and a decent bed, according to Mr Madden.

He added that the pair were effectively beginning a prison sentence, as they were led away for an unknown amount of time to await their trial, which could be anything from a matter of months to up to three years away.

Peruvian police said they found around 24lb (11kg) of cocaine hidden inside food packages as the women attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid. During the hearing they were informed that it could take three years for their trial to get under way should they plead not guilty.

Mr Madden has maintained that his client will plead not guilty and described the conditions she is being held in as "unacceptable".

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