Two women accused of drug trafficking in Peru have pleaded guilty before a judge near the country’s capital city of Lima.
Michaella McCollum Connolly from Dungannon was detained along with her friend Melissa Reid, who has also admitted her guilt, as they attempted to board a flight from Lima to Spain last month.
Both women were brought into court surrounded by armed guards yesterday after being driven there from the Virgen de Fatima prison.
They are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of the country hidden inside food packaging.
Their pleas came during a behind-closed-doors hearing in the port town of Callao.
The pair took full responsibility for drug trafficking after initially claiming they were forced to board a flight to Madrid with the 24lbs of drugs hidden inside their luggage.
Following yesterday’s hearing they were returned to the women’s prison where they are being held pending sentence.
A spokesman for the court in Callao said: “They will automatically have a sixth off from the minimum jail sentence of eight years and will be sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
“Sentencing will take place on October 1 at a new hearing.”
Reid’s family have previously said they are working with the Foreign Office in the hope that the Peruvian authorities will allow her to serve part of her sentence in the UK.
Speaking outside the court in Lima, lawyer Meyer Fishman said he could not comment until the young women were sentenced.
Both women, who had been working on the Spanish party island of Ibiza this summer, had previously claimed they were coerced into carrying the drugs by Colombian drug lords who kidnapped them at gunpoint.
So far they have been held at the notorious Virgen de Fatima prison in Lima, but court officials said they may now be transferred to the equally tough Santa Monica women’s jail.
Earlier this month the mother of McCollum Connolly spoke of her distress, saying she was exhausted.
“The situation is terrible for everyone,” said Nora.
Speaking from her Dungannon home, she added that it was hard to keep track of events so far away in Peru.
The family’s parish priest, Dean Colum Curry, said the family was struggling to come to terms with the plight but were trying to stay positive. “It is just like a nightmare for them. They are at a loss as to what they can do,” he said.
In a television interview last week Reid’s father William told reporters at his home in Lenzie, near Glasgow, that the family were going through a “living nightmare” and have not been sleeping properly since the women were arrested.
Her mother Debra told reporters she understood her daughter was in Ibiza with some friends and was at a loss as to why she had then travelled to Peru.
A guard in Lima told the Daily Mirror that the two women had initially refused to eat or drink and were frequently “terrified and emotional”.
However, speaking to the News Letter earlier this week, a leading religious figure in Lima said they were “bravely” facing up to their ordeal.
Archbishop Sean Walsh, of the Aramaic Catholic Church in Peru, has been a frequent visitor to the women since their arrest and detention.
“They are doing as well as can be expected,” he said.
“They are being treated well and respectfully. They are aware of the seriousness of the situation they are in but are being very brave. This has not been easy for them but they are doing well in the circumstances,” Archbishop Walsh said.
A report in the Sunday Independent carried a brief interview with McCollum Connolly, quoting her as saying: “The only thing I want to do is get out of here and return home.”
Her Belfast-based lawyer Peter Madden said last week that the family were finding it difficult to cope with the expense of travelling to Peru.
Mr Madden said it was expensive for a family to ensure a prisoner in Peru has enough money to buy the essentials not provided by the authorities.
“It’s costing them quite a bit of money. Even for them to travel over there, the flights alone are very expensive, and really up to now it’s only the brother has been to see her. Her mother hasn’t seen her yet,” he said.
Asked if the rest of the family were planning on travelling to Peru, he said: “I think it’s a question of funding, really. It’s difficult.
“It’s very expensive. They’re certainly trying to get money together to do that.
“Certainly her mother would be very anxious to see her...I think the family just want to wait and see if anything happens on Tuesday to change the position.”
In relation to the women’s day-to-day expenses, Mr Madden said the families are having to pay for food, clothes, and other items that would be taken for granted elsewhere.
“There’s like a sort of a shop within the prison where they can buy personal stuff, shampoos and stuff like that.
“None of it is provided by the prison authorities,” he said. Commenting on the attitude of some people in Northern Ireland who have expressed a lack of sympathy for their fellow countrywoman, Mr Madden said: “I think it’s very difficult to make any decision about it unless you’re in that position; unless you’re in the same position as she was.”
Following sentencing, it is understood the two women could be transferred from the Virgen de Fatima prison to the Santa Monica de Chorrillos women’s prison.