UK pair Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid expected to plead not guilty in Peru cocaine smuggling case

British women maintain they were forced to carry drug stash by gangsters

Two British women suspected of attempting to smuggle a large stash of cocaine out of Peru appeared in court today to learn whether they would be formally charged.

They could face up to three years in prison awaiting their trial, if they are charged and refused bail.

Police say they have wrapped up their initial investigation. The women were due to find out what charges they face at the pre-trial hearing and were expected to plead not guilty.

Northern Ireland-born Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, a photography student, and Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland, were arrested earlier in the month at Lima airport after being caught with around 11kg of cocaine hidden inside their luggage disguised in food packages, Peruvian police say. They had been due to fly to Madrid.

They deny drug trafficking and say they were forced to take the drugs by a gang of Colombian gangsters who kidnapped them on the Spanish party island of Ibiza. The armed gang coerced the women to fly to Peru, they claim.

Entering the court handcuffed they looked pale and shocked.

The case has attracted a blizzard of media attention in the South American country now thought to have overtaken Colombia as the world’s largest producer of the class-A drug.

Fresh doubt emerged last night over photographs that allegedly show the women drinking beer on a beach and standing on a balcony days before they were arrested in the Peruvian capital,  according to the Daily Mirror.

Peruvian police say the photo could have been taken in Ibiza and not in Peru, as the women claim.

Ms Reid’s father, William, who has flown to South America, questioned the photographs, telling the Daily Mail his daughter never drank beer.

“I want to know who took that picture of them on their balcony. Was it taken by a third person or by a minder, and who was drinking the beer?” he said to the newspaper.

“That wasn’t Melissa’s beer in the photo because I have never in my entire life seen her drink beer. She drinks a lot of water and, if she is drinking, it would be vodka.”

Mr Reid said he believes the story given to him by the two women that they were forced to take pictures of themselves to make them look as though they were on holiday together.

Spanish police have questioned the women’s claim that they were snatched by a gang in Ibiza.

First Sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, head of the Ibiza police unit responsible for countering organised crime, told the BBC: “In my experience, I don’t think these two women were forced to do this because – particularly when you go to South America – you need to pass several controls.

“The first thing you do is go to the passport control and say, ‘Listen, this is what is happening to me’. The policeman will react so I don’t think they were forced.”

Peruvian detectives have been investigating the women’s version of events by visiting the town of Cusco – popular with backpackers visiting the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. The women claim they were taken there by the drug cartel that kidnapped them.

Ms McCollum’s lawyer, Peter Madden, denied media reports that the young woman had previously been involved in drugs. 

“Michaella McCollum did not owe any money to any drugs dealer. She was not and is not involved in the drugs trade; she has no criminal record. She has never been in trouble with the police in her life,” he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions