17 Aug 2013

Peru drugs accused ‘was kidnapped’

A solicitor for one of the British women arrested for smuggling cocaine in Peru says she was kidnapped and forced to carry the drugs by a gang of 14 armed men.

Lawyer Peter Madden, who is representing 20-year-old Michaella McCollum, said she claims to have been threatened by a gang of as many as 14 armed men.

“She was in fact kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain and carry drugs back to Lima,” said Mr Madden.

“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.”

Melissa Reid, from Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, both 20, were arrested on August 6 at Lima airport in Peru as they tried to board a flight to Madrid with the 11kg cocaine haul. Both are accused of smuggling but have claimed that they were forced into carrying drugs by a violent gang.

Spanish police doubt pair 'forced to carry drugs from Peru'

Spanish police doubts

However Spanish police have cast doubt on the claims of two young British women who said they were forced to carry cocaine worth £1.5m.

Speaking to the BBC on Saturday morning, Spanish police said it seemed unlikely the women were forced.

“Sincerely, with my experience, I don’t think these girls were forced to do this,” First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, head of the anti-drug and organised crime police unit at the Guardia Civil in Ibiza, told the BBC.

Read more: Peru drugs pair 'terrified and emotional'

He suggested that the girls had several opportunities to alert the police.

“Because, particularly when you go to South America, you need to pass several consuls so the first thing you [would] do is go to the passport consul and say ‘Listen, this is what is happening to me’, and the police will react – so I don’t think they were forced.”

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum had been working in Ibiza as summer staff when they took the trip to Peru. They say that a gang there had coerced them into running drugs. Ms McCollum’s solicitor said she had been held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain the drugs.

Melissa Reid’s father William has flown to Lima to talk to the girls, and the pair have lawyers over there.

Meanwhile in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail newspaper, Ms McCollum told of the moment she realised she was being used as a drugs mule.

“That’s when we realised they were drugs,” she told the newspaper. “We didn’t know before that what they wanted us to take: guns, money, drugs. There was no option. We just wanted to get it over and done with and not be killed.”

She spoke of her relief when they were stopped by police at Lima airport.

“We felt relieved too that it was over,” she said.