Belfast Telegraph

Michaella McCollum homecoming: Her career prospects are miles better now... the message will be crime does indeed pay

By Suzanne Breen

Disembarking from a long-haul flight, most of us are a crumpled, unsightly mess. But Michaella McCollum looked a million dollars as she walked through Dublin airport at the end of a 15-hour journey from Peru.

It could have been an up-and-coming young actress or supermodel striding across the airport foyer with her two bulging suitcases - this time filled with chic outfits I'm sure, and not cocaine.

Foreign travellers, sipping coffee in cafes as they waited for their flights, could be seen looking on puzzled as reporters and photographers surrounded Michaella, snapping away and asking her for comment.

"Who is that?" they undoubtedly wondered as she brushed by with the media in pursuit. And therein lies the problem. Imagine their reaction when they find out that she's a drugs trafficker. They will think that we have lost our senses to be treating this woman as a celebrity.

Some will say that McCollum didn't invite the attention. Yet had she wanted to arrive back home in anonymity, she would hardly have posted selfies on Instagram in Lima as she prepared for take-off on board a flight to London.

Everything about the Michaella McCollum story sends out the wrong message to young people.

Rather than being deterred from following the same path that she did, they are far more likely to want to hurtle down it now, and who could blame them?

Despite all the allegations about the horrendous conditions in Peruvian hell-hole prisons with their cockroaches, dirty drinking water and inedible food, they will look at a radiant Michaella and think 'It can't have been that bad'.

She's almost unrecognisable from the harsh looking girl in the black leather jacket and bun hairdo from not-so-long-ago. She served just two years and three months of an almost seven-year sentence.

When she was released on parole in March, it was expected that she would spend the remainder of her sentence in Peru working with Aids sufferers, and the destitute and downtrodden.

Yet only a handful of months later, she was free to hop on a flight home. And, during her parole period, photos of Michaella and her mates dining in posh restaurants and partying in Lima's most exclusive nightclubs appeared on social media.

Back home, the future looks rosy. A book with film rights is more than likely in the pipeline. Perhaps there will be photoshoots for lads' mags. The chat show circuit also beckons. I can just see McCollum flitting from green room to green room across the country.

But she could have far bigger fish to fry than Nolan Live or The Late Late Show. Reality TV surely looms on the horizon. Will it be Celebrity Big Brother or Celebrity Love Island? I can hear those words loud and clear, "Michaella, would you please come to the diary room".

Michaella's career prospects are miles better now than they were before her drug trafficking days. To teenagers, she will appear as an exciting figure who has been on an adventure and has prospered for it. The message will be that crime does indeed pay.

McCollum, of course, was a cog in a big machine. She is certainly not Pablo Escobar, but neither is she the little innocent abroad as she portrays herself. That's what irritates me most about her - not the drug-smuggling, but the insistence on playing the victim and playing us.

When she was arrested, she told a litany of lies about being kidnapped by drug lords who had held her at gunpoint and had threatened her family.

We were encouraged to believe that the Peru Two were a contemporary Guildford Four or Birmingham Six. People - though thankfully not very many of them - gave money to a defence fund to help pay her legal bills.

Neither Michaella nor her supporters have ever once apologised to the public for that deception. In an unbelievably soft RTE interview in April, there was no expression of genuine contrition nor taking responsibility for her crime. Instead, she bleated about being a "naive, young and insecure" girl who had "a moment of madness".

Now a "moment of madness" might be doing a runner on a taxi-driver on a Saturday night if you haven't the fare home. It isn't flying halfway across the world trafficking £1.5m pounds worth of cocaine. Young male members of the Dublin Kinahan or Hutch drug gangs, or their Northern Ireland equivalent, wouldn't get away with repeating this rubbish.

In contrast, Michaella's accomplice, Melissa Reid, has gone a long way towards redeeming her reputation. Following her release in June, she gave a searingly honest interview to the Mail on Sunday.

"I regret what I did and I don't want to make any excuses. I'm embarrassed and ashamed and sorry and I want people to know that," she said. "I can't sit here and say I made a mistake. I knew what I was doing. I made a conscious decision to do it and no-one forced me."

Melissa admitted she tried to smuggle drugs for greed and the thrill of it.

"I was offered €5,000 cash but it wasn't just about the money. I had saved up before I left Scotland so I had cash for rent. I didn't owe money or anything," she said.

"I just wanted to be able to boast about it. I just wanted to be this big person that I'm not."

Now that she's back home, Michaella may well decide that a more robust media interview in which she is finally forthright is actually in her interests.

The problem is that she has lied so extensively, for so long, that most of us now wouldn't believe a word that passes from her lips.

Belfast Telegraph


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