Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Michaella McCollum: Video shows how Peru Two were nabbed smuggling £1.5 million cocaine haul

This is the video footage which shows drugs police knew exactly where the Peru 2's £1.5million haul of cocaine was hidden in their luggage.

The film, obtained in Peru by Sunday Life, shows how both women were questioned about smuggling drugs BEFORE their stash of cocaine was found.

 When their bags were eventually searched, security staff knew exactly where 11kgs of the Class A drug was being hidden — and in what packages.

Peruvian police have so far refused to reveal whether they were acting on a tip off when they arrested the Dungannon woman and Scot Melissa Reid.

But this never-seen before footage raises questions about how much police really knew about the Ibiza workers before they entered Lima airport.

It also strengthens the drug mules’ beliefs that they were set up but doesn’t show any evidence that they were forced to be drugs mules as Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid have persistently claimed.

 “We had only walked in and the security guard knew who we were, what we looked like and what we had,” Michaella told Sunday Life in an exclusive interview at Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima.

“The dogs hadn’t even sniffed our suitcases. We knew then it was a set up.”

INTERROGATION

After being arrested, the women, both 20, were forced to pose side-by-side with their luggage in front of them, before being taken to a nearby interrogation room.

The video camera clips, filmed by airport staff, show how inside that room anti-drug officers knew exactly where the pair had stashed the cocaine filled porridge, instant mash and pasta packets.

And it was only after these were placed to the side, that officers searched the rest of the luggage.

Using a carpentry knife, one officer slices the front and sides of a black holdall belonging to Melissa — before ripping out the padding of a black jacket.

The pair can only watch on as each item of their clothing, including underwear and bikinis, is held up and checked by police.

Police found a total of 18 packages, containing 5.78kg of the drug, in Melissa’s bag. Sixteen envelopes containing 5.81kg of cocaine were found inside Michaella’s purple suitcase.

Each package is laid out on an aluminium table, beside a set of scales, before being cut open. Inside, are neatly wrapped foil blocks.

Michaella and Melissa can only watch on nervously as the

drugs officer cuts into the foil packet and fine white powder pours out.

Previously, only snap shots of their arrest had been released to the media.

Sunday Life visited the Jorge Chavez Airport drugs unit where Michaella and Melissa, both 20, were held last August.

There, one of Peru’s top drug detectives told our reporter how young women like Co Tyrone born Michaella are “used” by drug cartels every day.

“There is at least one drug smuggler caught here everyday,” the senior detective said. “It is clear these girls they were sacrificed — these gangsters just needed a decoy so they could get a larger amount through.”

The police officer, who has been working to try and reduce Peru’s escalating drug trafficking problem said a kilo of cocaine is worth just 800 US dollars in the South American country.

But by the time it reaches the UK, its value soars to over £136,000 per kilo.

“Losing a relatively small amount is nothing to a cartel which is making billions,” he said.

Sunday Life revealed last week how police are convinced the pair — dubbed the Peru 2 — accepted money to carry the drugs. The detective, who refused to go on the record because of the “headache” the women’s case has caused authorities there, said: “I don’t know how much they were offered, but they are lying and they definitely weren’t forced. They accepted money.”

Inside the 10ft x 15ft airport room where the pair were questioned last year, I watched as another suspected drug mule was interrogated.

More than 19 kilos of suspected cocaine was found inside his luggage.

As the young Peruvian was questioned, the white powder taken from inside his holdall was weighed and bagged.

A plain clothed officer using a cotton bud like stick tested it. It turned blue, meaning it had tested positive for cocaine.

“The drugs are kept for 15 days before being destroyed,” the detective added. “But there is so many drug seizures in here now, the room in here fills up very fast.”

Outside the unit’s main door sat three trolley loads of luggage. All were to be searched.

“This is just the start — there will be more,” I was told.

“Not all will have drugs, but we suspect, most will.”

Hope that Michaella’s story will deter others

The father of a young man who died after taking drugs in a Belfast city centre nightclub has said he hopes the story of Michaella McCollum will deter those thinking of getting involved in the deadly trade.

James Braiden, a 71-year-old grandfather from Dunmurry, said his life stopped the moment he learned his son, Jim died from taking ecstasy in 2001.

The 23-year-old collapsed inside the now closed Network Club after taking E-tabs for the first time.

Speaking to Sunday Life, Mr Braiden Snr said he believed publicity surrounding the Peru 2 case highlighted the serious consequences of drug trafficking.

“The temptation is always going to be there to smuggle drugs — it happens everyday. But hopefully now after people see the consequences such as the prison conditions and the sentence, they will think twice.

“She (Michaella) was enjoying the good life, but she forgot about the lives of the people those drugs would have destroyed.

“She didn’t care about that though, all she cared about the money.

“What I would say to her and people like her is, go and speak to the parents of those who have died from drugs. It doesn’t destroy one life. It destroys many.

“Years ago in places like Thailand, drug smugglers were hung — now they get away with murder.”

WORSE

Mr Braiden, who said he doesn’t believe the cocaine smuggler’s claim that she was coerced into trafficking the £1.5 million of cocaine, said Northern Ireland’s drug problem has escalated since his son’s death.

“In fact it has gotten worse,” the dad-of-five said. “Drugs are more widely available and they are cheaper.

“I try my best to campaign to close down those places where drugs are being taken — the clubs, the bars, the shebeens, but you can only do so much.

“James’s son, who is 15 now, stays with us. We are trying to bring him up to be aware of the dangers of drugs — but he says, ‘granda, drugs? Don’t worry, I won’t be taking them’.”

James jnr, known as Jim, a taxi driver from Derriaghy, had been celebrating his birthday when he unknowingly took a fatal dose of the killer pills on April 15 2001.

He collapsed close to the DJ box, before attempts were made to revive him. The 23-year-old later died in hospital.

At the 2005 inquest into his death, coroner David Hunter said the young man’s unfamiliarity with the drug meant he was unaware of the effects of it. The coroner added that he was “perfectly satisfied” that Mr Braiden was not a drug user and described his death as “tragic”.

James Snr, who successfully campaigned for the closure of the Network Club, said the loss of his son “destroyed” his life.

“Our lives stopped from the moment our son died, our lives were destroyed.

“We got to the grave, and try to make it as pleasant as possible — that’s all you can do.

“We had to move house after Jim died, we couldn’t bare to stay there.

“I have thrown myself into voluntary work, I am trying to help others and that is some fulfilment but really, I just couldn’t sit in the house.”

Mr Braiden added: “The one thing I would say to anyone who considers taking drugs - think of who you are leaving behind.”

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