Belfast Telegraph

Why Michaella isn't the only victim of lethal drug trade

By Gail Walker

In one way, the case of Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly is an extraordinary one. Michaella vanishes off the face of the earth, sparking an international search and appeal. Then she turns up on a different continent and a whole ocean away arrested for drug smuggling with Scottish pal Melissa Reid. Sensational, jaw-dropping, pitiful.

But in another way it's completely bog standard and the only thing that makes this different from hundreds, probably thousands, of other tales of misfortune involving the naive and the gullible is the fact Miss McCollum Connolly is from Co Tyrone.

There have been many stories over the years of people, usually young women, caught up in some ghastly scenario borrowed from Midnight Express.

Innocent white westerners scooped dramatically at airports, bustled into unhygienic police stations by unhygienic policemen with large moustaches, marched in front of unfamiliar courts with no language skills, represented by some low-ranking diplomat from the local consulate, held endlessly on remand, then convicted on dodgy evidence. Everywhere the smell of Third World corruption, backhanders, planted evidence, the low resentment of the natives for successful, well-off western girls with money to spend.

Much of that caricature, surprisingly, can be heard mumbling away in the background of domestic media coverage of such cases. It's irresistible. Hence there has been quite a bit of lofty examination of 'the justice system' in Peru. Plenty of 'insider story' stuff about the prison the girls might end up in – the formidable Ancon 2 – which paint the harsh regime therein, some cockroach-ridden nest of disease and despair.

Of course, very sadly, all of this is garbage and none of it is true.

One of the big surprises of the current case is that it has flushed out the fact there is already a woman from Northern Ireland serving time in Ancon 2 for being a "drug mule", though she maintains her innocence 25 months into her term.

We know this because Lillian Allen was interviewed in that very prison by the BBC.

You may want to re-read that sentence. All the stereotypes come tumbling down. In fact, what we have revealed to us is yet another national jurisdiction struggling to contain a lethal trade which specialises in generating victims of all kinds. A jurisdiction which is so confident of its justice system that it allows foreign news agencies inside its prisons to interview inmates! Imagine that happening in Britain!

Once again, we see that below all the pompous drugs-endorsing views of so many in the liberal west are sorry spectacles of the type now unfolding in Peru and which are brought home to us only because in this case there is a high-profile local connection.

The drugs trade isn't about recreational substances. It isn't even about addiction – that is something which occupies the medical authorities and health officials in government. The drugs trade is about money. The laughable liberal solution of something called "legalisation" – yes, of all that stuff in the suitcases at Lima airport – may or may not tamper with the availability of soft or hard drugs but it certainly won't tackle addiction and absolutely will not drain the cash out of what is the biggest single source of criminal revenue outside of prostitution in all its nasty varieties. Its victims are legion.

Take a good look at Michaella McCollum Connolly and, for that matter, at Lillian Allen – maybe because she's 48 she hasn't attracted the media attention her younger co-victims have (though perhaps now a campaign to free her will also be launched ... ?)

All of them are the true face of the drug trade.

Look, I've no idea whether Michaella and Melissa went to Peru voluntarily or were coerced. But one would need a heart of stone not to be moved by their plight, and the plight of their families who must be suffering in a way few of us can comprehend.

So, the next time some goon at your dinner party voices his or her oh-so-right-on prescription for solving the drugs problem – legalise the poison – remember the faces at Lima airport.

And then think of the faces you'll never see. The drug growers, the purveyors, the packers and stackers, the blokes around the world who will always have more and stronger and purer and better and cheaper gear than anything anyone can regulate.

Sadly for the Connollys of Tyrone and the Reids of Lenzie, those chaps will be counting the cash in complete anonymity long after the story of their daughters is forgotten.

Belfast Telegraph


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