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Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid put on convincing show but their stories soon crumbled, says Peru's top police officer

By Adam Cullen

Published 07/04/2016

Michaella McCollum during her exclusive first interview with the Irish broadcaster RTE (RTE/PA)
Michaella McCollum during her exclusive first interview with the Irish broadcaster RTE (RTE/PA)
Michaella McCollum in the RTE interview broadcast
Michaella McCollum in the RTE interview broadcast
Michaella McCollum after her arrest
First television interview of Michaella McCollum Connolly after being released on parole from a Peruvian prison
Michaella McCollum’s Facebook post from 2011

One of Peru's highest ranking police officers has lifted the lid on the web of lies spun by drug mules Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid after their 2013 capture.

The officer, who cannot be named, yesterday revealed his files and notes on the pair in his Lima office.

One of the lead investigators with the South American nation's elite 'Dinandro' anti-drugs unit, the officer said the 'Peru Two' first told police they had won their trip to the country.

"Their first story before they mentioned being kidnapped was that they had been given a trip to Peru as a present," said the officer. "They said they were tourists and that they had come to visit Machu Picchu.

"The chicas stated that they were bringing the food packages that were found in their suitcases back for someone who had helped with the trip and that they had no idea of the contents.

"At first, we believed them. They put on a convincing show; they were calm, but as time went on holes started showing in their accounts.

"Next thing we had this account of the kidnap, which of course we knew to be false. They never cooperated with the police."

Former photography student and part-time model McCollum was freed from Ancon Dos prison at 5pm last Thursday.

Since then the Dungannon woman has been swanning around one Lima's most affluent neighbourhoods with family and friends and has been living in the Miraflores district.

Situated close to the beach and a bevy of high-end stores and restaurants, a standard apartment in the area usually fetches around £1,500 per month.

Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of the Ibiza clubs where she worked as a dancer
PARTY SCENE: Michaella in Ibiza
Michaella McCollum Connolly in one of her club hostess outfits
Michaella McCollum after her arrest
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Michaella and Melissa caught on CCTV loading bags into a car in Peru
Michaella McCollum's mother Norah McCollum and sister Samantha McCollum vist the Peru prison
Melissa Reid
Michaella McCollum and ex-boyfriend Dwayne Mullan
Dungannon drugs mule Michaella McCollum
Michaella McCollum Connolly, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing in Lima, Peru, clutching the book 'Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know: Ten principles for spiritual and emotional fulfillment' (AP Photo/Karel Navarro)
Michaella McCollum Connolly arrives to court for her sentencing in Callao, Peru (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly (right) and Melissa Reid (front) in handcuffs as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013
Michaella McCollum Connolly with reality TV star Mark Wright at a promotional night hosted by Belfast's M Club
Michaella McCollum Connolly with Brad Houston from England
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly with rugby star Tommy Bowe while doing promotional work at an official Ulster Rugby event

She fled questions from this newspaper earlier this week after we tracked her down to the trendy district.

Sporting a fetching new blonde hairstyle, the convicted drug smuggler refused to answer questions before fleeing in a taxi.

Her striking new image sparked outrage across the island after her appearance on RTE last Sunday, which many branded disingenuous and fake.

Revealing a very different picture of the 23-year-old Tyrone woman yesterday, the police officer said it took over a day for McCollum to finally break down.

He said she was cool and aloof and had even been filmed laughing and eating doughnuts hours after their arrest.

However, the situation quickly changed when police took her mugshot a day after her arrest on August 7, 2013.

Pointing at the image, he said McCollum, just 20 years old at the time, was sobbing minutes before the shot was captured.

The picture shows a dishevelled McCollum with swollen red cheeks and puffed up eyes.

"All the time they were very calm," he said.

"Apart from in the queue at the airport.

"Our people there know what to look for, small things like body language and they were a bit nervous."

Police uncovered 16 food packages in McCollum's bag containing 5.8kg of cocaine shortly after 8.10am on August 6, 2013.

In Glaswegian Melissa Reid's luggage, investigators found 5.7kg of the drug concealed in 18 similar food containers.

They were caught trying to board an Air Europa flight with a final destination in Mallorca, Spain, via Madrid.

The pair fought the charges against them for months.

However, they later pleaded guilty before a court in the Peruvian capital of trying to smuggle 11k.5g of cocaine - worth £1.5m - out of the country.

They were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, although they could have faced a sentence of 15 years.

Under new legislation which came into force in Peru in 2015, McCollum was let out on parole last week.

The only stipulation of her release is that she must sign a document at Lima courthouse once a month and remain in the country until she has completed two-thirds of her initial sentence.

"She is now free to do as she pleases," said a source. "She should not be out on the streets.

"Our laws have become too lenient. This is an epidemic that is growing with Europeans at the moment.

"Demand for cocaine in Europe is at record levels. In Australia and Russia the price for a kilo is an average of £230,000."

The source said the majority of the drugs exported by mules from Peru land in Holland and Spain. Between 2008 and 2013 612 individuals were stopped trying to board flights bound for Spain while 248 were intercepted en route to Amsterdam.

In the year the 'Peru Two' were captured, authorities discovered over 705 kilos of cocaine at Lima airport, with 212 people arrested.

Melissa Reid remains in a Peruvian jail while she seeks to serve the remainder of her sentence in Scotland. The request was approved by the Scottish Prison Service in January 2015.

But any transfer depends on the prison authorities in Peru.

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