21 Aug 2013

Peru formally charges UK pair over alleged drug trafficking

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, the two women arrested in Peru on suspicion of cocaine smuggling, are formally charged, prosecutors say.

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid charged with drugs trafficking offenceas in Peru (pictures: Getty)

Ms McCollum, 20, from Dungannon, County Tyrone and Ms Reid, 20, from Glasgow, face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted, the prosecutor’s office added.

The two women were arrested two weeks ago as they attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid. Peruvian police said they found 24 pounds of cocaine, reported to be worth £1.5m, hidden inside food packages.

I believe the trip to the beach was part of a set-up. William Reid

The two women deny the allegations, saying they were forced to carry the packages by armed men. They are expected to enter not guilty pleas.

If refused bail, it is expected that they will be transferred to prison to await trial – something that could take up to three years to start.

Beach photos

Speculation is taking place publicly over the women’s version of events, following the emergence of photographs showing them posing on a balcony and on a beach with glasses of beer days before they were arrested at Lima airport.

The pair say they were told to take photos of themselves at tourist spots to make it look like they were friends travelling together, the Daily Mail reported.

Most people who get involved do so willingly and they now exactly what they are doing. Dr Jennifer Fleetwood

Ms Reid’s father William told the newspaper: “I believe the trip to the beach was part of a set-up that they asked them to smile to build up a portrayal of them as happy holidaymakers.

“Melissa said they had been told by the men that they weren’t smiling enough in the pictures and they told them to look happier.

“I can only go by what I have been firmly told by the girls. The two girls’ stories are very tight, very consistent, with a lot of detail and they seem to be telling the truth, as far as I can gauge.”

‘Not typical’

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, a drug trafficking expert, told Channel 4 News on Tuesday that the story they are painting “is not typical”.

“Most people who get involved do so willingly and they now exactly what they are doing,” she said. “But having said that practices of coercion and of violent threats do happen.”

Before news of the arrests broke, the family of Ms McCollum, a photography student and former nightclub hostess, had launched an internet campaign, fearing she was missing.