Belfast Telegraph

Drug mule 'may serve shorter time'

Drug mule Michaela McCollum could serve a shorter jail sentence if repatriated to Northern Ireland, it has been revealed.

The Co Tyrone woman was imprisoned for six years and eight months after being caught smuggling £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of Peru almost two years ago.

Her case was raised during a meeting of Northern Ireland's devolved Assembly.

Justice Minister David Ford said: "The expectation is that sentences will be worked out on the basis of our normal provisions from the time when somebody is repatriated to Northern Ireland.

"That is a matter of some detail which would have to be worked through if there is an agreement by the Peruvian authorities to repatriation."

McCollum, from Dungannon, and Melissa Reid, from Glasgow, were arrested at Lima airport in August 2013.

Customs officials caught the pair, aged in their 20s, trying to board a flight with 24lbs of cocaine hidden inside food packets in their luggage.

Mr Ford added: "There are certain arrangements which apply as to how sentences are carried through and the precise details which go through depend upon the nature of the sentence within Peru as well as the nature as to how matters would be considered on the basis of a sentence within Northern Ireland.

"Those issues would have to be worked out if there is consent on the part of the Peruvian authorities."

The women initially claimed they were forced into carrying the drugs but later pleaded guilty. They had faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a behind-closed-doors plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.

After conviction they were moved from Lima's Virgen de Fatima prison to the Ancon 2 prison where up to 30 prisoners are reportedly crammed into a cell.

The situation at the mixed prison, which is two and a half hours outside Lima, has previously been criticised by the Irishwoman's lawyer as "appalling".

If the transfer is approved, McCollum's final destination would probably be Ash House Women's Prison at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

Mr Ford said they were still awaiting approval from the Peruvian authorities.

He added: "It is a matter of public record that an application has been made by Michaela McCollum which has been accepted within this jurisdiction but which has not yet been accepted in Peru."

Meanwhile, Assembly members also heard that McCollum, a former nightclub dancer, would have to pay for her airfare but the cost of her imprisonment in Northern Ireland would come out of the public purse.

Mr Ford added: "The expectation for any prisoner being repatriated into Northern Ireland is that they pay the costs of their fare.

"Once they are a prisoner here their costs are met by the Prison Service within the existing Prison Service budget."

The Scottish Prison Service agreed in principle to a transfer for Reid last year but is still waiting to hear from the Peruvian authorities, who must confirm that they are happy for her to serve the remainder of her sentence under Scottish law.

Last year the cost of housing a prisoner in Northern Ireland was £62,898 in 2013/14, according to figures from the Justice Department.

Sinn Fein MLA Pat Sheehan said emphasis should be put on McCollum's rehabilitation if she is moved back to Northern Ireland.


From Belfast Telegraph