Michaella McCollum: I fled to Ibiza after loyalists firebombed my home
Convicted drugs smuggler Michaella McCollum has claimed she left Northern Ireland for Ibiza after her home was attacked by loyalists.
The 26-year-old former dancer, who was jailed for trying to smuggle 11kg of cocaine worth £1.5m out of Peru, said the attack took place on July 12 and involved firebombs.
The Dungannon woman and Melissa Reid from Scotland were dubbed the Peru Two after they were arrested with the drugs while trying to fly to Spain from the South American country's capital Lima in August 2013. The pair were sentenced to six years and eight months in prison but were released in 2016.
In a new interview to promote her book, You'll Never See Daylight Again, McCollum recalls crouching in her bedroom one July 12 while an angry loyalist mob threw homemade firebombs at their house.
Brought up across the border in Monaghan until she was five, she maintains this sectarianism, general bitterness and lack of opportunity are part of what sent her to Ibiza aged 19.
"I thought, 'I don't want to do this any more. I don't understand why I'm a bad person in some people's eyes just because I'm a Catholic. I just want to get out of here'," she says.
The criminal, who claims in her book that she thought Peru was in Spain when she agreed to become a cocaine mule, reveals she became hooked on sedatives and tranquillisers while behind bars.
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The worst moment of her period in prison came about two years in, when her beloved uncle Gene, her father-figure, died of cancer.
That precipitated what she describes as "a breakdown", during which she availed of the easily got prescription drugs the prison was full of.
"I was grieving for him and I was grieving for myself," she says.
"Up until then, I believed everything was okay. That time, I looked at the situation as the situation really was, rather than fooling myself. And I found it really hard to be blind again. I was grieving for my freedom and my family and all the time that I'd lost.
"I know I've consumed drugs in the past, but when I went into prison, I decided I don't want to be that person any more; I've been given an opportunity and I need to learn all these things, because if I don't, these things are going to continue to happen in my life - so when I saw people taking all these drugs, I thought they were so foolish.
"Then when that happened to me, I just wanted to go to sleep. I didn't want to wake up. I didn't want to feel the pain. I didn't want to hurt myself, I didn't want to die, but I just felt all these horrible feelings, all these emotions I'd never felt before.
"I was sick with worry and guilt, I felt awful, and I didn't want to feel those feelings, so I would take sleeping pills to go to sleep so I didn't feel the pain. I did that for a couple of weeks, and then I just snapped out of it. I thought, 'What am I doing? Who have I become? This is not who I want to be. I need to feel these things, I need to deal with it…'"
The Tyrone woman admits she struggled to cope with life back in Northern Ireland after she was set free.
"I found it really hard to adjust when I came back to Northern Ireland. I found I lost myself. I was really paranoid, I had no confidence. I felt like everybody hated me and everybody was talking about me. It was really difficult and probably took me about eight months before I was able to get back to myself and be able to walk out of the house with my head held high," she says.
A year ago, she had twin boys, after a short relationship. "I was in denial when I found out I was pregnant - 'how did this even happen?'. And then I was even more shocked when I found out they were twins. My family were like 'only you… everything extreme happens to you'."
She raises the boys alone, with help from her mother and family. "I'm sure I'll be enough for them," she says.