Belfast Telegraph

Michaella McCollum Connolly: I was told 'smuggle drugs or die'

Peru drugs mule Michaella McCollum Connolly has described how she had a loaded gun pointed at her head as she was warned by ruthless drug dealers: "Do it - or die."

The Dungannon model (20), who is in police custody with co-accused Melissa Reid (19), is due to appear in court today after being caught with £1.5m worth of cocaine while trying to board a flight from Lima to Madrid last week.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, Michaella said she was duped by a man in Ibiza she initially befriended but who later handed her over to a South American gang on the island.

She described how the gang subjected the two girls to a terrifying ordeal.

"We both had a pistol put to our heads with the trigger cocked," said Ms Connolly.

"We were crying and would have done anything they said."

The former nightclub hostess said the druglords had prepared dossiers on the girls' families to ensure the pair complied with their demands.

"They knew everything about us - who our parents were, what they did, their phone numbers, what friends we had," said Ms Connolly.

"They even had photos of them and threatened to harm them if we didn't do as they ordered."

The two women have admitted they are finding it difficult to cope in the Lima jail.

Ms Connolly said: "We have very little in the way of necessities. The cells get extremely cold at night. We have been told we will be moved to a prison soon where the conditions are much worse."

Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, near Glasgow told the Daily Mirror the South American gang coached the women on how to smuggle the drugs.

"We were held up in a dingy room and they placed the drugd in front of us," she said.

"The men, all South American, told us to wrap the drugs up tightly in clothes to avoid being detected."

Ms Reid said she has resigned herself to being in prison for "three to four years."

She described how the two women have been allowed phone calls to speak to their families.

"I couldn't help getting updet when I spoke to my mum," she said. "Michaella and I have both been brought up by good loving parents and neither of us has ever been in trouble with the police."

The women spoke as new video footage emerged of them in police custody.

In the footage, taken seven days after her arrest alongside her Scottish friend Melissa Reid on suspicion of trafficking £1.5m worth of cocaine, Ms Connolly tells a reporter she is "alright" as she eats a snack.

Asked is she getting enough to eat, she replies: "To eat, yes; to drink, no."

"I don't really want to talk to any journalists at any stage," she says, at which point Ms Reid adds: "It wasn't our choice for it to go in the media."

The two women are due to attend a meeting today with an attorney from the public prosecutor's office to discuss the case.

The meeting, which is normal in such cases, is held in private at the anti-drugs police headquarters, where the women are being held.

But while the two women appeared relaxed in the video footage, former Irish consul general, Michael Russell, who visited the women in police custody last night, has warned that the two women will be "like lambs to the slaughter" unless they get the best legal advice.

Ms Connolly (20) from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Ms Reid (19), from Glasgow, are understood to have told visitors that they were held at gunpoint by a group of Colombians and were taken to Morocco before being brought to Peru, where they were ordered to carry the drugs.

Mr Russell said it was "highly unlikely" that Ms Connolly -- who was born in Monaghan and travelled on an Irish passport -- would be able to "walk away" from her arrest on suspicion of drug trafficking.

He added that it was now crucial that she be represented by an English-speaking lawyer who is experienced in drug-smuggling cases.

Otherwise, he said, she and Ms Reid would be "like lambs to the slaughter."

He said: "Unfortunately, I think it is highly unlikely that the young women will walk away from this. There is no dispute that they had the cocaine in their luggage but there will be investigations into where and how they got it and if they knew what was in the packages.

"And in these cases in Peru, it's not that you know what happened but what you can prove and what a judge believes.

"I have been working with foreign arrests of this type for 10 years and I have only known of one case where the man walked away and that was because the amount he was carrying was so small as to be close to being judged for his personal use.

"It will be up to the women to prove that they were forced into carrying this. But the fact that Michaella was reported as missing by her family is interesting. It might help her claims."

The women have been visited in custody by Irish-American Archbishop Sean Walsh, who said they told him they were threatened by a group of Colombians and forced to carry the drugs.

Archbishop Walsh, a member of the Eastern Catholic Church who ministers to prisoners in Peru, said people in Ireland could help by donating to a fund so Ms Connolly can hire a lawyer who, he said, would be more effective than a state-appointed public defender.

He said: "My impression is they may very well plead innocent for reasons of coercion ... my advice would be if they are innocent to maintain their position no matter what they are threatened with, and to try to come up with the best evidence they can to support their position," he told RTE's 'Liveline'.

Major Manuel Siclla, the police officer leading the investigation, said: "The same as any person involved in drug trafficking, they will be brought to court and they will face long prison sentences if they are found guilty. We take this problem very seriously in Peru."



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