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
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Parker says: 'I once had a taster use the phrase 'smells like the sex glands of a lemming'. Who in the world can relate to that?'
food + drinkRobert Parker's 100-point scale is a benchmark of achievement for wine-makers everywhere
News
i100
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing