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Britons Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid refused bail on Peru drugs charge

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid may spend up to three years in prison waiting for trial if they decide to plead not guilty

The two British women who allegedly tried to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5m out of Peru have been refused bail.

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid, both 20, face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted - and could spend up to three years in prison awaiting trial, said the Peruvian prosecutor's office in Callao, near Lima.

During a public court appearance on Wednesday, the pair were formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking.

McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, and Reid, from Glasgow, claim they were forced to carry the drugs - concealed in packages of oats - by an armed gang who threatened their family members.

During the hearing, judge Dilo Huaman reportedly asked the pair why they did not ask for help when they arrived at Lima airport, to which they replied they were threatened by "someone anonymous".

The prosecutor told the court that their story was incoherent.

The women have already spent two weeks in custody over the drug trafficking allegations and say they have suffered from a lack of food and a decent bed, according to McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden.

He said the pair could face an unknown amount of time in prison before their trial, which could be anything from a few months to three years away.

Peruvian police said they found just over 10kg of cocaine hidden inside food packages as the women attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid.

During the hearing they were informed it could take three years for their trial to get underway if they decide to plead not guilty. Madden said his client planned to plead not guilty and said the conditions she was being held in were unacceptable.

Madden added: "Their main concern at the minute is that they may be separated, sent to different prisons.

"They are very concerned that might happen. They did not know each other before this started, they have now become best friends."