Peru drug arrests: Spanish police 'doubt' over women's claims

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Media caption,

Video footage shows Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum questioned in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking

The head of Ibiza's police investigation into drug trafficking claims against two UK women has cast doubt on claims they were coerced into trying to smuggle drugs out of Peru.

Melissa Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, both 20, are accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine.

The pair deny the claims, saying they were forced into it by a gang in Ibiza.

But police said they had several opportunities to alert the authorities.

First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, head of the anti-drug and organised crime police unit at the Guardia Civil in Ibiza, said the claims ran counter to his knowledge of trafficking cases.

"Sincerely, with my experience, I don't think these girls were forced to do this," he told the BBC.

"Because, particularly when you go to South America, you need to pass several controls so the first thing you [would] do is go to the passport control and say 'Listen, this is what is happening to me', and the police will react - so I don't think they were forced."

'Not typical'

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, criminology lecturer at the University of Leicester, who has carried out research into the involvement of women in the international drugs trade, said their experience did not appear to be typical.

"We know that most drug mules are male - women represent about 20% but that does not mean that their story is not plausible... anyone who researches this [issue] finds people who have been coerced," she told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

The pair, who are expected to appear in court in Lima next week, could face lengthy prison sentences if found guilty of drug smuggling.

Media caption,

The BBC's Tom Bateman visits Ibiza and explores the island's association with drugs

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum had been working at bars in San Antonio, the main resort for thousands of young British tourists every summer, when they said they were befriended by a man from London.

They claimed they were then forced at gunpoint to make the journey to Peru, shadowed by gang members along the way.

They were stopped on 6 August when they tried to board a flight from Lima airport to Madrid.

Police said they found more than 24lb (11kg) of cocaine in food packaging in the women's luggage.

The women have previously said they were unable to go to the authorities because the gang had threatened to kill their families if they did not co-operate.

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

Denials issued

In it, Ms Reid said: "I was forced to take these bags in my luggage".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Melissa Reid's father has flown to Lima

Ms Reid's father, William, who has flown to the Peruvian capital to see his daughter, has said there was no way she would have been willingly involved.

Ms McCollum's solicitor, Peter Madden, visited her on Friday.

Speaking after the visit, he said she was "kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain and carry drugs back to Lima".

"She wasn't offered any money, she was threatened and held. She is now prepared and ready to give full details to the police who are in a questioning process," he said.