Parents plan to visit drugs suspects in Peru

Video grab taken from Sky News of Melissa Reid (right) and Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) who were arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking
Video grab taken from Sky News of Melissa Reid (right) and Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) who were arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking

The parents of two women arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking say they intend to travel to the South American country to see their daughters.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Northern Ireland, and Melissa Reid, 19, a Scot, claim they were ordered at gunpoint by Colombian gangsters to smuggle £1.5 million-worth of cocaine out of Lima.

The pair, who deny drug trafficking allegations, were arrested while trying to board a flight from the Peruvian capital to Spain last week.

They were expected to appear before city prosecutors for the first time on Wednesday but reports suggest the hearing has been postponed until early next week.

The women claim they were forced to carry the bags and were unaware they contained narcotics.

Mr and Mrs Reid told the Daily Mail newspaper that they were preparing to fly out to Lima to see their daughter, who turns 20 on Friday. Ms McCollum Connolly’s family are also making arrangements to travel to Peru, according to the paper.

In an interview with the Mail, William Reid, 53, said: “From what her friends and Melissa have been able to tell us, she was introduced to a group of men who she socialised with and this escalated to her being forced to carry out this journey.

“They came into her flat and told her to pack a bag. She didn’t know where she was going. My daughter would 100% not have gone willingly. This is completely out of character. She was coerced into it.”

Her mother Debra said: “She was planning on going to a special nightclub for her birthday. Her brother Liam is getting married in February and she was very excited about it.

“It will be heartbreaking for us if she’s not there. We can’t even think about her being in Peru for several years.”

In an interview with the Daily Mirror from their police holding cell in Lima, the women claimed to have been coerced into carrying the drugs by members of a violent drug gang who put loaded guns to their heads.

Ms Reid insisted: “We were given no option. If we didn’t do as we were told, we would be dead. We were not smuggling for money, we were smuggling for our lives.

“We have no doubt they would have killed us both without hesitation if we didn’t do as we were told.

“Ever since I was arrested I have played out what has happened in my mind over and over again, asking myself how could we have gotten out of it. But each time I think it wasn’t even an option.

“We both had loaded guns put to our heads. They were more than prepared to use them. If we didn’t do it, we were told we would die.”

The women told the paper they were robbed of their passports and mobile phones and followed on board the flights from Spain to Peru.

Once in South America, they were ordered to carry the cocaine hidden inside food packets.

Ms Reid said the men had information on their families, who would be threatened if they failed to follow the gang’s orders. She also claimed that the first time the women met was after being kidnapped and taken to the drug cartel’s safe house in Majorca.

Ms Reid was the first to be sent to Lima, on August 1. She was joined by photography student and former nightclub hostess Ms McCollum Connolly a day later.

She said they were “coached” on what to say if they were stopped and told to claim they were “best friends” who were travelling together.

Ms McCollum Connolly, who is also protesting her innocence, described the conditions in which they have been held as harsh.

She 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.”

Last night Ms McCollum Connolly’s lawyer said her family was confident she will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“Michaella’s family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that Michaella will be exonerated,” said solicitor Peter Madden.

He added: “I spoke to Michaella and she emphasised that she denied that she was guilty of any offence. She is well. She is not on hunger strike.

“She is finding it difficult to cope with the current situation, so far from home, but is optimistic.”

The National Police of Peru said they found more than 24lb of cocaine - thought to be worth around £1.5 million - hidden in food in the luggage of the two women.

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum Connolly could be held pre-charge for up to 30 days and then could spend up to three years in prison before a trial.

If convicted, they could face lengthy sentences in an overcrowded Peruvian prison where they will have to pay for everything, including food and bedding.

Ms McCollum Connolly, who holds an Irish passport, and Ms Reid travelled separately to the party island of Ibiza earlier this summer in search of work.

Archbishop of Lima Sean Walsh, an Irish-American archbishop with the Eastern Catholic Church in Lima, told the BBC that police allowed him to see the two women yesterday.

Asked about the conditions in the prison, he said: “I usually visit the men’s prison and I deal with prisoners who are male and female, who are out of prison on parole.

“That can last for years here and it is not pleasant - if their families can’t send them money, they live in destitution, quite honestly.”

But a ray of hope could come from a possible change in the law, the archbishop said.

“The Peruvian law is contemplating a change now whereby prisoners who don’t have terribly long sentences, rather than doing parole time in Peru, can be simply expelled from Peru back to their countries of origin, so we hope that this law is coming through in the coming days and that might be an optimistic note.”