Woman tells of four-month prison ordeal in Dominican Republic

Only hours before Marianne Telfer and her boyfriend, Richard Slack, were due to leave the Dominican Republic on their dream holiday, the idyll dramatically collapsed.

Only hours before Marianne Telfer and her boyfriend, Richard Slack, were due to leave the Dominican Republic on their dream holiday, the idyll dramatically collapsed.

Mr Slack, who had swallowed bags of cocaine without the knowledge of his girlfriend, collapsed and died.

Miss Telfer, 28, returned to Britain yesterday after spending the past four months in a series of jails in the republic facing a series of charges ranging from homicide to drug smuggling.

Her experience of cockroach-infested cells where she was deprived of basic essentials such as water, were as traumatic as they were unexpected. It was only last Wednesday, after a series of court hearings, that her ordeal was brought to an end when five judges dropped the charges against her.

Speaking to The Independent from her family home in Colchester, Essex, she said: "It was just meant to be a normal holiday. I had no idea it would end like this, with me away from home for that amount of time and coming back to England without my boyfriend.''

Miss Telfer had been informed by her boyfriend, a 34- year-old landscape gardener, shortly after they started their relationship that he was a former heroin addict. While he continued to receive treatment, Miss Telfer was confident that it was in the past at the time of their holiday in February.

But several hours before they were due to fly from the Caribbean country, Miss Telfer, a care worker, returned to her hotel room to find her boyfriend unwell. He lapsed into convulsions and only then revealed that he had swallowed several bags of cocaine.

She said: "It was madness from that moment. I was absolutely shocked. I called a doctor and I was adamant that Richard would not get on a plane and was trying to persuade him to go to hospital.''

Mr Slack appeared to recover slightly and so a doctor who had been called to examine him left them alone. But then Mr Slack suffered further convulsions which led to his death.

"It was truly horrendous,'' Miss Telfer said. "I was wailing his name, but I knew he was dead. Everything suddenly became very unreal. When I was arrested I had no idea what was gong on.''

After autopsy results confirmed he had died from a drugs overdose, she was taken by the military back to her hotel room, where they found more cocaine. "At this stage I couldn't believe what was going on,'' she said. "I had to deal with the loss of Richard, as well as being faced with something I knew nothing about. When men came to get me wearing caps with homicidio written on the front, I realised they were actually charging me with his murder.''

While the charges were later reduced to drug smuggling, his death marked the start of a four-month ordeal that saw Miss Telfer being ferried from prison to prison.

At home her mother, Sheila, a 58-year-old counsellor, flew to the Caribbean within 48 hours of her daughter's arrest and remained nearby until her release. With the support of Fair Trials Abroad, the campaign group, and the family's local MP, Bob Russell, they campaigned to prove her innocence.

Miss Telfer said: "There were times when it was extremely difficult. One place I stayed in for eight days was full of worms and cockroaches. It was truly disgusting. I don't know how I got through it, but I felt I had to be strong.

"Some of the women were so kind to me. One used to wake me up in the evening to make sure I ate something. And I kept a diary to keep myself busy.

"It was almost impossible to comprehend what was happening to me. It was like something out of a film, not real life. I fantasised constantly about steaks and roast dinners, but the things I really missed most were the things I take for granted - liberty, freedom, the choice that comes with independence.''

Mrs Telfer told of her battle against the Dominican Republic's legal system. "It was extremely frustrating'' she said. "It's not so much the failings of the legal system as the people behind it and its enforcement. There were opportunities for bribery, but I absolutely refused. I could not make it clearer that we wanted Marianne released not because of payment, but because she was innocent.''

As Miss Telfer attempts to readjust to family life, she is also planning to visit the family of her late boyfriend. "I didn't even go to Richard's funeral,'' she said. "I do need time to come to terms with what's happened. I've lost my boyfriend as well as four months. That is something I will never be able to forget.''

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