UK prisoners 'paying corrupt officials to escape Peru'

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Media captionA British woman who used an illegal route to return to the UK while on parole in Peru says five other women have followed the same method.

A British woman who used an illegal route to return to the UK while on parole in Peru says five other women have followed the same method.

Lillian Allen had been jailed for eight years in 2011 for trying to smuggle 7kg of cocaine out of Peru.

"It's common knowledge among women in the prison that the best way out of the country is to pay corrupt airport police," she said.

Allen had been due to remain on parole in Peru until 2018.

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Allen, originally from Belfast but currently based in Worcestershire, said she had been advised to plead guilty by her legal team in order to get a shorter sentence and maintains that she is innocent.

After she was released on parole in 2014, halfway through her sentence, she was supposed to sign in with the police each month. She worked in a spa and was paid 750 Sol (£147) a month, 150 Sol (£29) going automatically towards her fine.

Straight home

But Allen was aware of an illegal route used by other prisoners to get back to the UK as quickly as possible.

"There were a lot of people who had gone straight back home as soon as they got out on parole. One of the girls passed me a number and I called it as soon as I got out," she told the Victoria Derbyshire programme.

"I asked for help to get back to England and the man said it would be $600 for the police and $500 for the flight.

"On the morning of the flight I went to the airport and met with the airport police. They took my photo, told me to memorise their faces and told me what desk to go up to."

When she was called forward to the desk they pretended to stamp her passport and let her through.

Allen flew from Lima to Colombia and then onto London Heathrow where she almost got stopped at customs, but got through after saying she was going to miss her bus connection.

She claims this illegal way of getting back to the UK is well established within the prison, and a growing number of women are using it to get back.

"I would say four or five women have taken that route back to the UK since I was inside," she said.

'Ruined my life'

Allen says she had been let down by the British Embassy in Lima and that is one of the reasons why prisoners like her are using alternative routes.

"They came to the prison once every three months to give us some money but that wasn't enough," she said.

"Once you got out of prison that was them finished with you."

Lillian Allen spoke to the BBC from inside Ancon Dos Prison in August 2013 after two women who became known as the 'Peru Two' were jailed alongside her.

Michaella McCollum, of Dungannon, County Tyrone, and Melissa Reid, of Lenzie, near Glasgow, pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle 11kg (24lb) of cocaine in 2013.

"I'd sit on the wall with them and have a cigarette. I told them to keep themselves to themselves and not to mix with anyone".

Allen has been back in the UK for almost a year. She is homeless and still living with the fear that she is technically on the run.

"I still feel like I'm constantly looking over my shoulder," she said. "It's ruined my life. It took four years away from my children and my grandchildren"

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We work hard to make sure the welfare of all British nationals imprisoned overseas is protected. We carry out regular visits, at least every three months for prisoners in Peru, and are available for telephone contact."

In a statement, Peru's Chief of Immigration, Boris Potozen, from the Superintentedencia Nacional de Migraciones, said that new procedures were in place to try to tackle the problem.

"The Superintentedencia even has an 'Office of Ethics and Anti-Corruption' that is devoted to preventing, fighting and investigating cases of corruption," he said.

"In that respect, we take all allegations of corruption seriously."

Watch the full film here. The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:15 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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