Northern Ireland

Peru drug arrests: Michaella McCollum denies wrongdoing

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Media captionThe video shows the two women after being stopped at Lima airport in Peru

The family of one of two UK residents being held in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking has said she denies involvement in any criminal offence.

Michaella McCollum, 20, from Northern Ireland, and Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland, were arrested trying to board a flight to Madrid a week ago.

It is alleged police found £1.5m worth of cocaine in their luggage.

Ms McCollum's family, who have released a statement through lawyers, said they were making arrangements to go to Peru.

Her mother, Nora McCollum, said her family was going through a difficult ordeal.

The 20-year-old is originally from Dungannon, County Tyrone, while Ms Reid is from Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire.

'Living nightmare'

Police sources in Peru have said the two women are likely to appear before prosecutors on either Wednesday or Thursday, when they are likely to be formally charged with drug trafficking.

Ms Reid's family have also spoken of their shock at hearing of her detention. Her father, William Reid, said they are going through a "living nightmare" and have not slept since they found out.

He said there is "no way" his daughter would have gone along willingly with a plan to smuggle drugs.

A McCollum family statement, released through their lawyers, said: "Michaella has been questioned by the police and has denied involvement in any criminal offence. She will be appearing before an examining judge shortly."

Their solicitor, Peter Madden, said: "Michaella's family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that Michaella will be exonerated.

'Difficult to cope'

"The family fully support her and they are making arrangements to travel to Peru. They have contacted support groups in Lima to ensure that her current needs are met. I am arranging legal representation for her in Lima."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The footage shows police searching food packets

Mr Madden said he had spoke to Ms McCollum on Monday night and she had emphasised her innocence.

The lawyer added: "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 two women have been visited in prison by an Irish-American bishop who is based in Peru.

Archbishop Sean Walsh, of the Pentecostal Eastern Catholic Church, said the pair were being treated well.

He said: "One of their chief concerns is about their own families. They allowed me to phone their families and I assured them that the girls are well."

The cleric added: "They are of course very concerned because they are facing prison time, but they are trying to mobilise their defence."

'Afraid'

Speaking at the family home in Dungannon on Tuesday, Ms McCollum's mother said: "At the moment we don't know anything. We don't know what is happening at all."

The McCollum family's parish priest, Dean Colum Curry, said they were 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," the priest said.

"The family feel almost overwhelmed. They feel intimidated with all the callers to the door and feel a bit like prisoners in their own home. They are afraid to say anything that might jeopardise the situation."

The two women were stopped last Tuesday as they tried to pass through the Air Europa counter at Jorge Chavez airport in Lima. They face lengthy prison sentences if found guilty.

The National Police of Peru have since released footage of the two women being questioned, shortly after the drugs were discovered inside food packages.

'Missing'

In the footage, Ms McCollum is heard confirming her nationality as Irish and detailing travel plans.

Ms Reid can be heard telling police she was forced to carry the bags. She is asked if she knew drugs were being carried in the bags and she said she did not.

Ms McCollum, who had moved to Ibiza from Belfast, was reported missing by her family last week.

The 20-year-old had been studying photography in Belfast, but 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.

'Emotional'

Ms Reid's father told reporters that his daughter is "bright, beautiful, bubbly and intelligent, just like her Facebook page shows".

He said he had a very brief phone conversation with his daughter and told her to be strong and not to get too emotional.

The family are being advised by the Foreign Office but Mr Reid said they are "not getting much information".

The 53-year-old said the family have no plans to go to Peru at the moment and fears going out could actually put his daughter in "greater danger".

Ms Reid's mother, Debra, said she had no idea her daughter had travelled to Peru, and she thought she was in Ibiza having a good time with her friends.

She said the Foreign Office had assured her Ms Reid was being well cared for.

Both women have been visited by officials from the British embassy.

Ms McCollum holds an Irish passport and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has also confirmed it is providing consular assistance to Ms McCollum's family.

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