“Yes I took some drugs in Ibiza, but I wasn’t a coke head.”
Sitting under a prison parasol in the mid-morning sun, Michaella McCollum doesn’t hold back about what sort of lifestyle she led in Ibiza.
In her first interview she told me frankly: “Everyone does it, I don’t think I knew anyone out there that didn’t.
“It was normal to go straight from work to a party with people you maybe didn’t even know because most of the people out there, like me, came over by themselves to work.
“Now I look back and think, ‘how stupid was I?’
“But even my family understood that’s the way it was over there. I’m only 20 — of course I am going to go to parties.
“Some newspapers said that we were party animals, but we were just normal 20-year-olds enjoying a summer in Ibiza.”
By her own admission, the Dungannon woman was having the “time of her life” on the Spanish party island.
But she was never, she claims, involved in the murky underworld of Ibiza’s booming cocaine trade.
“I worked in Bay Bar and Ushuaia (Ibiza Beach Hotel), and did a few shifts in the Amsterdam Bar. But I didn’t see much drugs there, it was more at the parties.
“I met some really nice people through work and the day after everything happened my friend from home was supposed to be coming out to stay with me.
“She arrived in Ibiza and I wasn’t there. So that proves that all of this couldn’t have been planned.”
As Michaella told me her account of what happened the holes in her story quickly became apparent as she couldn’t even remember her ‘friend’ Gemma’s last name.
But what she could easily remember, was the night her life changed forever.
Looking into the distance as she smoked a cigarette, the nightclub hostess said: “I keep thinking, what if? What if I hadn’t stayed late after work, or stayed for those last few drinks?
“I was working in Ushuaia dancing and I met a few people who I had been hanging out with since June. We went to a house party and one of the guys that I had been partying with had just come back from Barcelona with his girlfriend.
“She had all these new clothes, and nice jewellery and she said she had got it in the nice shops there.
“They said they were going back to Barcelona tomorrow, and asked me did I want to go.”
Michaella said yes, and went back to her apartment in the nearby workers’ village, with another man, known only as ‘Jake' or the ‘Cockney’ by revellers in the party town.
A drug dealer, Michaella explains that he was well known, but also well liked.
And he helped her pack some of her belongings at the Es Vedra apartment complex, where she had her rent paid up to September, before returning to the “dingy” flat party.
But the party had ended.
“My passport was taken off me and I was told I was going to Majorca, not Barcelona,” she claimed.
The next morning, the pretty PR girl says she was flown to the Balearic isle, where she first met Melissa.
“We were standing in the airport in Majorca and Melissa and this man walked up to us.
“The first thing we said to each other was, ‘what the f***?'
“Then we were taken to a house where there were two Spanish men, a Colombian man and a woman.
“They were all in their 40s and looked like gangsters. They (the men) were sleazy, especially the Columbian. He kept touching my face and calling me princess. All of them kept saying to us that we had to go and do a job for them and there was no turning back now.”
The women maintain they were locked in the house for four days.
They say their phones, passports and belongings were taken, and they were told they had to do a “job” for the gang, according to Michaella.
“At first we thought it was guns they wanted us to carry,” said Michaella.
“But then we realised it was drugs when they kept saying ‘coca’.
“One of the men showed me pictures of my sister and brother.
“I knew then they got the pictures off Facebook, but that scared me because you can get so much from Facebook, where people have been and where they are.
“So if they were able to get those what else would they have been able to get? He told me if I was a ‘bad girl’ and didn’t do as they said they (brother and sister) would get hurt and that we would both get punished.”
Michaella claims the gang was also considering sending the pair to Thailand — where drug trafficking can carry the death penalty.
“I didn’t even know where Peru was,” she told me.
“It could have been in South Africa for all I knew. They said to us a few times, ‘Thailand or Peru’.
“Then a day before we flew to Lima they said, ‘we think Peru is best'.
“I’m glad it was Peru.
“Imagine if we were sent to Thailand. We would have got life, or worse.”
Michaella knows her story hasn’t washed with very many people, including the Peruvian authorities.
She accepts there were many
chances to alert police, in fact anyone, to their situation.
Firstly, there were travel agents in Majorca they could have told.
“Two of the men were with us and they booked us on a few tours around Lima and Cusco. They told us we had to look like tourists and were making sure we did it right.
“I don’t even know the name of the travel agent or the area we were staying in Majorca.
“Spain isn’t like Ireland — it’s hard to tell where you are at, especially in tourist areas,” Michaella said.
“But I told the police about that, if they searched, and checked CCTV they would be able to see. But they have told us that it is no good now, and that they want the names of the men that took us.
“I told them I only know their first names, they are hardly going to show us their passports and tell us where they live, they are gangsters.”
Then there was the hotel in Lima, the four star San Agustin Colonial Hotel, close to where they picked up the drugs.
“It’s easy for everyone to say you should have told someone, but if we had rang the police in that hotel and said, ‘oh hello, we have drugs here and we were forced to carry them', they would have just came to the hotel and arrested us. We were too scared.”
She added: “Looking back now I wish I had, but it’s easy to look back and think that.
“I felt like we were being watched the whole time.
“Random men were stopping us in the
street while we were in Lima and asking for pictures with us. We thought, are they the ones watching us?
“People were staring at us the whole time. I was so paranoid and so worried.”
The day before flying back to Spain, the women picked up the packages of cocaine close to their four star San Augustin Colonial hotel, in Miraflores district, Lima.
It had been reported that the Dungannon dancer was the one that picked up the drugs, after CCTV showed her walking close to the hotel, on her own and with a large bag.
“That was my handbag,” she tells me. “Melissa did it and I stayed in the hotel.
“I don’t know where she picked them up from, but she had to do two runs because there was so much.
“The next day we went to the airport and we were told that we would be watched and followed from the hotel.
“When we got to the airport there was this taxi man outside who watched us from the moment we walked up to the doors, right inside. He stared at us through the glass until he couldn’t see us any more.”
Michaella says she and Melissa had not even reached the Air Europa desk in Jorge Chavez airport in Lima when they were pulled to one side by staff.
“As soon as we walked into that airport the security guard pointed us out and we were taken into a small area and asked if we had drugs in our suitcases. We knew then it was a set up,” she said.
“We had only walked in and the security guard knew who we were, what we looked like and what we had. The dogs hadn’t even sniffed our suitcases.”
Police found more than 11kg of cocaine, worth £1.5million, hidden in food, including packets of porridge and packets of jelly, in their luggage.
“They opened up Melissa’s bag and then the packages. They didn’t even open mine in front of me.
“Then we told them that we had been forced but they didn’t listen. Our phones were even ringing while we were being questioned. It was them (the gang). I told the guards to let me answer it so I could find out where they were, or so they could track the call, but they refused. It’s easy to track a call.”
“Looking back now, I know we were used,” she tells me as she stubs out a cigarette on the prison floor.
“I don’t know if there was a bigger load coming in or something else, I just know we were used.”