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Michaella McCollum released on parole in Peru - drug mule leaves Ancon jail but could face six year wait to come home

By Laura Abernethy

Drugs mule Michaella McCollum has been released from jail in Peru but may have to spend six more years in the South American city.

The 23-year-old is being freed from the Ancon 2 prison McCollum under new legislation on early prison release introduced in the South American country last year but is still waiting to see if she can return home to Northern Ireland.

The Tyrone woman was arrested alongside Scot Melissa Reid in August 2013 as they tried to leave Peru aboard a plane bound for Madrid, with Majorca as their final destination.

They were found with 24lbs of cocaine with a street value of £1.5m hidden inside food packets in their luggage.

Michaela McCollum's solicitor confirmed that she was released from prison at 5pm on Thursday night following a successful application for parole.

They added that she has not been released under any repatriation scheme or other protocol between Peru and the UK. There will be a pending judicial hearing to determine the conditions of her parole.

Kevin Winters solicitor said: “At this stage it remains unclear when Michaela may be eligible to return home. That will be a matter for the court and a pending judicial hearing to determine the conditions of her parole. We are working with her lawyers in Peru and hope to be in a position to clarify further, as soon as possible.”

Bishop Sean Walsh who visited McCollum in prison a few days ago said: “She has been granted parole to my very great surprise. She’s going to be granted parole of six years and six months.”

“I visited her several days ago. She is of course quite relieved and thankful to god that the course of life has gone this way.

“Probably she will remain in Lima. She will be allowed to work and study if she wants to do that.

“Being on parole means that she only has to check in with the clerk and the prison system office for special and psychological questioning and to ensure that she remains in the country."

McCollum and Reid initially claimed they were forced at gunpoint into carrying the drugs for a South American drugs cartel. However, they later pleaded guilty.

Upon their arrest, their families were warned that their daughters could face up to 15 years in prison. But after a plea bargain, they were convicted in December 2013 and sentenced to six years and eight months in jail.

Both women were then moved from Lima's Virgen de Fatima jail to Santa Monica prison in Chorrillo to begin their sentence, which is due to last until April 2020.

The jail, which is notorious for its crowded and unsanitary conditions, has been used to house foreign female criminals in the past.

The repatriation of McCollum to Northern Ireland was approved by Stormont's justice minister in January of last year but, she had remained in prison.

A court will now decide whether she can come back to Northern Ireland immediately of if she will have to stay in Peru.

According to reports, McCollum spent last Christmas in a prison hospital after being struck down with a tropical disease after red tape delayed her release.

Reid's father Billy said recently that the impact of his daughter's crime on his family had been "horrendous".

He said: "It's horrendous to see your daughter in handcuffs and the living conditions that she has to put up with.

"Melissa has spent her own 20th and 21st birthdays in prison in Peru.

"She missed the significant event of her only brother's wedding. Events such as Christmas are non-existent for us. There'll be no celebrations in our house, there'll be no Christmas tree until we get her back home.''

Reid remains in prison in Peru. She has been seeking to serve the remainder of her sentence closer to home in Scotland.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said on Friday: "We continue to provide consular assistance to Melissa Reid. We remain in contact with her family and with the local authorities."

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