Belfast Telegraph

Video: Bishop claims Michaella McCollum Connolly 'set up' in Peru drugs arrest

By Cormac McQuinn, Adrian Rutherford and Hannah Popham

The Dungannon model accused of trafficking cocaine is "frightened" and "devastated" at her arrest but will protest her innocence in front of a Peruvian judge tomorrow.

An Irish-American bishop who visited Michaella McCollum Connolly (20) has said he believes she was coerced into allegedly smuggling drugs out of the country.

Archbishop of Lima Sean Walsh said: "My personal feeling with these girls? They really and truly have been set up."

He has also spoken to Michaella's worried mother Norah back home in Northern Ireland, in a bid to reassure the family that she is being well treated.

Archbishop Walsh spoke as dramatic pictures emerged showing the moment Michaella was arrested at a Jorge Chavez Airport in Lima along with Scottish teenager Melissa Reid (19).

Images of the anxious-looking young women were accompanied by shots of the food packets, which police claim were used to conceal cocaine in their luggage.

Familiar brands such as Quaker allegedly hid packets of the drug, with another image showing a purported haul of 5.78kg being weighed on a scale.

Peruvian police claim Irish passport-holder Michaella was stopped with almost 5.8kg of cocaine in her luggage. A similar amount was alleged to have been found in Ms Reid's baggage.

In an accompanying video, Ms Reid says she was "forced to take these bags" in her luggage.

She denied knowing anything about the drugs.

A police officer gets Melissa to confirm her name and nationality, before asking to where she is travelling.

Melissa: Madrid, Majorca

Officer: Yes. Which airline?

Melissa: Air Europa.

Officer: You knew it contained these bags?

Melissa: I was forced to take these bags in my luggage.

Officer: You knew it contained drugs?

Melissa: I did not know that.

Officer: Which is your bag?

Melissa: That's mine.

Michaella is now being held in the Santa Monica women's prison after being arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle around cocaine out of the South American country.

If charged and convicted of the illicit cocaine smuggling charges, the women who travelled independently to Ibiza to work for the summer, could face sentences of between 10-25 years in one of the harshest prison regimes in the world.

Archbishop Walsh said that when he visited the women, "they were weepy and upset".

"They are embarrassed at how everything has affected their families back home. They are devastated by that but I assured them they need to stay strong," said Archbishop Walsh.

"They are due to appear in a court on Wednesday when they will be interrogated by a judge.

"They believe they were set up and they will use that as a defence."

According to the 'La Republica' newspaper, the National Police of Peru "said that Michaella's nerves gave her away when she arrived to the desk", while 'El Ojo' (The Eye) reported that police "observed both girls become nervous in the presence of airport sniffer dogs."

But the former Irish consul of Peru, Michael Russell – who is set to visit Michaella in prison today – has also said that he believes their arrest could be "a set-up".

He said the girls could have been used as a "distraction" to allow dealers smuggle more drugs through the airport.

Former Irish consul Mr Russell last night said: "As soon as they got into the airport, they were arrested. It could have been the case that the main drug dealer described the people to the police in the airport."

Michaella was initially feared missing in Ibiza by her family, who last week sparked off a massive social media campaign to locate her.

She left Belfast city in June to be a summer worker in Ibiza's bars and clubs. But it later emerged that the nightclub hostess had been arrested and detained in Peru.

Her distraught family are originally from Co Monaghan but based in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and are still trying to come to terms with the dramatic events of last week.

Michaella's sister Stephanie hit back at hurtful taunts that appeared online.

She urged people to "get their facts right", and wrote on Facebook: "Her family have not made a statement, they are the only ones that know the truth".

It also emerged that just six months ago, the photography student and part-time dancer was working at a trade fair for older people in Cork.

Brian McCabe of the Senior Times, who helped organise the event, recalled Michaella working at the show, but did not know any more about her.

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