Northern Ireland

Peru arrests: Michaella McCollum's family in 'difficult' ordeal

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

The mother of a County Tyrone woman being held on suspicion of drug trafficking in Peru has said the family are going through a difficult ordeal.

Nora McCollum's daughter, Michaella, 20, 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.

The two women had been due to appear in court on Wednesday, however it is understood the case has been delayed.

Ms McCollum's family said they were making arrangements to travel to Peru.

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

In a statement issued through their solicitors, the family said Michaella denied involvement in any criminal offence.

BBC correspondent in Lima Will Grant said the pair have been protesting their innocence and are expected to enter a not guilty plea when they appear in court.

The Daily Mirror's Chris Bucktin, who spoke to the women in the police station where they are being held, said they told him they would be killed if they did not comply.

He told BBC Radio Ulster: "They were told in no uncertain terms that if they didn't carry out what was expected of them then they would be killed and also they had details of their families and their families would be in danger too."

The National Police of Peru released a video of the women being questioned just after their arrest.

In it, Ms Reid answers basic questions - such as her name and nationality - then says she did not know what she was carrying.

She told her interviewer: "I was forced to take these bags in my luggage".

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.

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

Bishop 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."

The McCollum family's parish priest, Dean Colum Curry, said they were struggling to come to terms with their 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 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.

Michaella McCollum 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 social media for any information on her whereabouts.

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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