British women 'forced' to smuggle £1.5m of cocaine out of Peru face court

The pair claim they were ordered to smuggle the packages containing cocaine at gunpoint
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Two women who claim they were ordered at gunpoint by Colombian gangsters to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of Peru are due to appear in court today.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, from Northern Ireland and Scottish Melissa Reid, 19, are expected to appear before prosecutors in Lima to be formally charged.

The pair were arrested whilst attempting to board a flight from the Peruvian capital of Lima to Spain last week.

The women deny drug trafficking regulation and claim they were forced to carry the bags which they were unaware contained narcotics concealed in food packages.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror newspaper from their police holding cell in Lima they claimed to have been forced into carrying the drugs by members of a violent Peruvian drugs gang who put loaded guns to their heads.

Both women protested their innocence and claimed they were told by a South American cartel leader: "Do it, or die."

Ms Reid insisted they carried the packages in a bid to save their lives and said the men had also compiled information on their families, who would be threatened if they failed to follow the gang's orders.

She also revealed that the women did not meet until after being kidnapped and taken to the drugs cartel's safe house in Majorca.

She said: “We were given no option. If we didn't do as we were told we would be dead. We were not smuggling for money, we were smuggling for our lives.

“We have no doubt they would have killed us both without hesitation if we didn't do as we were told.

“Ever since I was arrested I have played out what has happened in my mind over and over again, asking myself how could we have gotten out of it. But each time I think it wasn't even an option.

“We both had loaded guns put to our heads. They were more than prepared to use them. If we didn't do it we were told we would die.”

The women told the paper their passports and mobile phones were taken from them and they were followed on board the flights from Spain to Peru.

Once in South America they were ordered to carry the cocaine hidden inside food packets.

Ms Reid, who marks her 20th birthday on Friday, was the first to be sent to Lima, on 1 August.

She was joined by photography student and former nightclub hostess Ms McCollum Connolly a day later.

She said they were “coached” on what to say if they were stopped and told to claim they were “best friends” who were travelling together.

Ms McCollum Connolly described the conditions in the holding cell they remain in as harsh.

She said: “We have very little in the way of necessities. The cells get extremely cold at night. We have been told we will be moved to a prison soon where the conditions are much worse.”

Last night Ms McCollum Connolly's lawyer said her family were confident she will be cleared of any wrongdoing.

“Michaella's family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that Michaella will be exonerated,” said solicitor Peter Madden.

The family are are now preparing to travel to Peru and are arranging legal representation.

Mr Madden added: “I spoke to Michaella and she emphasised that she denied that she was guilty of any offence. She is well. She is not on hunger strike.

“She is finding it difficult to cope with the current situation, so far from home, but is optimistic.”

The National Police of Peru said they found more than 24lb of cocaine - thought to be worth around £1.5 million - hidden in food in the luggage of the two women.

Ms Reid's father William told reporters at his home in Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, that the family are going through a “living nightmare” and have not slept since they found out what had happened.

He said he had a very brief phone conversation with his daughter and told her to be strong and not to get too emotional. Mr Reid, 53, said he believed his daughter had been “groomed”.

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum Connolly could be held pre-charge for up to 30 days and then could spend up to three years in prison whilst awaiting a trial.

Ms McCollum Connolly, who holds an Irish passport, and Ms Reid had travelled separately to the party island of Ibiza earlier this summer in search of work.