Meet Lucy. She's a drug mule. One of the few British people caught by police in South America who is at liberty to tell her tale, for the time being at least. She was arrested in Argentina in the act of smuggling a huge amount of cocaine. She fled from justice and made it back to the UK. For a while she almost believed she had got away with it. But now the Argentine police want her back. In a few weeks she will find out whether she has to face trial on charges that could lead to her spending up to 16 years in an Argentine prison.
How did it come to this? Twenty-seven-year-old Lucy Wright would be the first to admit her story sounds like the bad script of a sub-Midnight Express cliché. She was a nursing student, 24, good background,nice middle-class family from Bolton, Lancashire. She's the eldest of four sisters; mum and dad are teachers. So far, so run of the mill.
But then she moved to London and broke up with her long-term boyfriend. "I had come down to London with my boyfriend to start studying for a nursing degree. We'd been together for five years and it was a very close relationship. All of a sudden he just left. He was my first boyfriend and I took it very badly. I got very depressed and tried to kill myself. I was self-harming. With exams coming up I knew I had to get a grip."
Then she did a really silly thing: she wanted to get some speed to help her stay awake so she could revise for her exams. A drug dealer had other ideas and gave her something entirely different. "I didn't know what it was. I was just told it would keep me awake as well if that's what I wanted." It was crack cocaine.
Lucy quickly became addicted and ran up massive debts. "I fell into a bad habit, very quickly, with the wrong people at a vulnerable time. I'm not blaming anyone else for what happened; I just want people to know I'm not a complete scumbag."
So she was more than susceptible to the idea of "easy money" when in 2007 her dealer offered her £10,000 to smuggle cocaine. "It just sounded like a good idea – 10 grand all in one go; pay off my debts and I could start again. It just seemed to be the answer to my problems."
At Buenos Aires airport, suitcase burdened with 6kg of cocaine, she had second thoughts. Too late. "I'd changed my mind. I was ringing the people saying I didn't want to do it and had kind of come to my senses and they said: 'You've got to get on the fucking plane now. It's too late.' And then I got tapped on the shoulder and that was it."
She'll probably never forget that night. "There was no door on my cell. There was no window. There was no toilet. I had to just go to the toilet on the floor where I was sleeping in front of two men who stood in the doorway. They wouldn't give me any food or water and the staff took all my belongings off me and shared it out between themselves."
Incredibly, Lucy was bailed the next day, with the judge complaining at the expense of keeping foreigners in jail. "My mum had hepatitis C at the time and was very ill. I just wanted to come home," Lucy recalls. "I was on a massive comedown, obviously. I just wanted to be at home. I couldn't believe what I'd done." So she fled.
Lucy managed to make her way to Brazil where she reported her passport lost and got a replacement from the British consulate in Sao Paulo before getting her family to wire her money for a ticket home.
"Every time I did anything I thought someone was going to go: 'Er, I don't think so mate!' But no one did."
When she got back to the UK, she tried to come clean. "When I came back I was terrified. I went to a police station in Bermondsey and said what had happened and they said: 'Oh, it's nothing to do with us. You're not a criminal here.' I expected to get my punishment and then, when I didn't, I thought it was all finished, forgotten, that I could just get on with my life."
So that's what she did. She moved into her own flat, got a car, found work as a care assistant and even managed to get on to a university course to resume her dream of becoming a nurse.
That hope was smashed last August when she was arrested by British police acting on an Interpol warrant. While her whole family is worried sick, her grandparents, now in their eighties, are "distraught" and she is finding it hard to cope. "I feel like I'm going to lose my mind if I think about it too much, but I'm trying to put on a brave face."
Perhaps more than anything, she dreads conditions in an Argentinian prison system notorious for ignoring basic human rights, and cites "the physical abuse from the staff; the overcrowding; the dirt; nine people in a three-bedroom cell in darkness for 20 hours a day".
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is backing her bid to face justice in Britain. He says she has been "upfront and honest" about her "serious mistakes" and adds: "I am concerned that the people controlling the supply and distribution of illegal drugs are not being tackled in this case, but that the vulnerable people upon whom they prey end up facing the stiffest penalties." Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to decide next month whether to grant an application for Lucy's extradition.
She insists she doesn't want sympathy. "I know it's bad: I did the wrong thing and I need to get punished. I'm not trying to get out of it. But I don't want to disappear off the face of the earth over there for 10 years or more, which will ruin my life. I'll miss everything: I'll miss my nephew growing up; my nan and grandad dying. I won't be able to have kids. I could miss the whole lot of my life just because of one stupid thing." Asked what she thinks will happen, Lucy breaks down and whispers through tears: "Honestly? I think I'm going to be sent back."Reuse content