Northern Ireland

Peru arrests: Michaella McCollum Connolly held

Michaella McCollum Connolly Image copyright Copyright unknown/appeared on Tumblr
Image caption Relatives of Ms McCollum Connolly reported her missing after she failed to contact them for several days

A Northern Ireland woman who was arrested on suspicion of drug smuggling in Peru is still being held in the country.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, and Scot Melissa Reid, 19, are each alleged to have been carrying almost 6kg of cocaine in their luggage.

They were stopped and searched at Lima's international airport on Tuesday.

Police said they had been due to fly to Madrid, then onto Majorca.

Ms Connolly, who had moved to Ibiza from Belfast, was reported missing last week.

Her family had not heard from her for several days.

A statement on Peru's National Police Force website said the cocaine had been hidden inside packages of food.

It had an estimated street value of about £1.5m (1.7m euros).

The two women were stopped as they tried to pass through the Air Europa counter at Jorge Chavez airport.

Ms McCollum Connolly, a photography student in Belfast, had gone to the Ibizan town of San Antonio in June to look for work as a dancer or a nightclub hostess.

After hearing nothing from her for 12 days, her family appealed on Facebook and other social media websites for any information of her whereabouts.

The appeal was backed by several Irish sport stars. Her family said she would usually be in touch every couple of days.

Holding cells

Ms McCollum Connolly holds an Irish passport. Ms Reid is from Lenzie near Glasgow. Both women have been visited by officials from the British embassy.

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has also confirmed it is providing consular assistance to Ms Connolly's family.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said: "We are aware of the arrest of a British national in Peru this week and are providing consular assistance to the family."

Peru is one of the world's top three cocaine producers, alongside Colombia and Bolivia.

Dan Collyns, a journalist based in Lima, said foreigners arrested on suspicion of drug-trafficking in Peru could remain in holding cells in the anti-drugs police headquarters in Lima for 15 days while police investigate.

He said if the women were charged they would be transferred to Lima's women's prison, Santa Monica, to await a court hearing and sentencing.

Mr Collyns said there were currently more than 200 foreign prisoners at the prison, many of them from European countries.

"The conditions in Peru in any prison are fairly squalid," he said.

"All the prisons are overcrowded, inmates often have to pay for the most basic items, for example a mattress, so prisoners are left very much to fend for themselves.

"I have visited Santa Monica prison, the conditions are pretty dire."

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