Northern Ireland

Michaella McCollum: Peru drug smuggler tells of 'moment of madness'

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Media captionMichaella McCollum has spoken for the first time since leaving prison in Peru

A woman from County Tyrone who was sent to prison for drug smuggling in South America has said her decision was made in "my moment of madness".

Michaella McCollum, 22, was freed on parole in Peru this week after serving more than two years in jail.

She said that if the cocaine she was trying to take to Europe had reached its intended destination she could have had "a lot of blood on my hands".

"I could have caused a lot of harm to people," the Dungannon woman added.

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, near Glasgow in Scotland, were caught with 11kg (24lb) of cocaine in their luggage at Lima airport in August 2013.

They were trying to board a flight to Madrid in Spain.

Followed

McCollum told Irish state broadcaster RTÉ she had been "very naive, so young and very insecure" when she attempted to smuggle the cocaine.

"A lot of times I didn't know how to say no to somebody," she said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms McCollum and Ms Reid were arrested at Lima airport in 2013

"I kind of just followed along with it and I guess a part of me kind of wanted to be something I'm not.

"But, simply, I made a decision in my moment of madness."

She said she was "not a bad person" and wanted to demonstrate that by doing "something good".

She said she regretted the "harm that I've done and so much suffering" caused to her family.

Ruined

She acknowledged that had she managed to transport the drugs to Spain she could have "caused destruction to society".

"In my time here, I thought: 'What if the drugs had got back [to Europe]? What would've happened?'

Image copyright AP
Image caption The women admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5m out of Peru

"I probably would've had a lot of blood on my hands, the amount of families that would've ruined," she said.

"I could have potentially killed a lot of people, not directly but I could have caused a lot of harm to people."

McCollum and Reid initially claimed they had been kidnapped and forced to carry the drugs.

But the pair later admitted trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5m from Peru to Spain and were jailed for six years and eight months.

She said that during her time in prison she had "forgotten the things that everybody takes for granted".

"Seeing the sun, seeing the darkness, seeing the moon and the stars, things I haven't seen in almost three years," she said.

Transfer

McCollum was released on parole on Thursday night and her solicitor is waiting to hear the terms of her release.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ms McCollum had been awaiting approval for her transfer back to Northern Ireland from Peru

Irish priest Father Maurice Foley who visited her in prison in Lima told BBC Northern Ireland's Good Morning Ulster that she had clearly changed.

"She is a very good person; she made a very bad decision," he said.

"The young woman that I met in Lima was 19 years of age... she was young, she was naive and she was very foolish," he said.

"She is a changed woman. She is a person reformed."

It is understood she will have to remain in the South American country for a considerable time under her parole conditions.

She was freed under new legislation on early prison release introduced in Peru last year, having served two years and three months.

Reid remains in a Peruvian prison. She has been seeking to serve the remainder of her sentence closer to home in Scotland.

A transfer request for her was approved by the Scottish Prison Service in January 2015.

But it says any transfer would ultimately be for the Peruvian prison service to determine.

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