Drug mule is innocent says family
The family of one of two British women sentenced to almost seven years in jail for trying to smuggle £1.5 million of cocaine out of Peru has insisted she is innocent.
The mother and sister of 20-year-old Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, also vowed to mount a legal bid to get her back to the UK to serve her sentence of six years and eight months in a Northern Ireland jail.
McCollum along with co-accused Melissa Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, pleaded guilty to drug smuggling in September.
The pair, both 20, had faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a behind-closed-doors plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.
They were yesterday sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
McCollum's sister Samantha said the family still believed she had committed no crime.
"In our opinion Michaella is innocent, in our opinion she will always be innocent," she told ITV's Daybreak.
"Michaella has never been in trouble before so this is a very big shock to us and we will all support her."
She said the family's lawyers would be working to get her sister home to serve her sentence in the UK.
"We will be getting the legal team to try and sort all that out," she said.
"It will be a long legal process, we will be getting Michaella home as soon as possible, so she will be back home soon."
McCollum's mother Nora, who described her daughter as an "honest, hard-working girl", said she was "optimistic" after hearing the length of sentence.
"It was the best possible outcome they could have got," she told Daybreak, saying that her daughter phoned home at least once a day.
"It was the shortest sentence she could have had, so I am happy with it."
McCollum's sister said she was coping "really, really well" inside prison.
"Her faith has kept her going, she is very positive and optimistic, knowing this is going to bring her out very strong," she said.
"She has got great support at home, she has nine other siblings at home, she is the baby of the family. We just want her home."
Before pleading guilty, both women, who had been working on the Spanish party island of Ibiza this summer, had claimed they were coerced into carrying the drugs by Colombian drug lords who kidnapped them at gunpoint.
They said they were forced to board a flight from Lima to Spain in August with 24lb of cocaine in food packets hidden inside their luggage when they were arrested.
So far they have been held at the notorious Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima.
Their guilty pleas at the end of September came on the same day that the UN declared that Peru has now overtaken Colombia as the world's number one coca leaf producer, the raw material of cocaine.
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, coca plantations in Peru covered 60,400 hectares last year.
Peru's national prisons institute says that 90% of the 1,648 foreigners in the country's prisons are either sentenced or awaiting trial for drug trafficking.