UK law graduates held in notorious Brazil jail

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The father of one of two British law graduates arrested in Brazil for allegedly falsely claiming that they had been robbed was trying to secure his daughter and her friend's release last night from a notoriously overcrowded prison normally used to house violent criminals.

Shanti Andrews and Rebecca Turner, both 23, have been held in a crowded cell at the Polinter de Mesquita prison in the Baixada Fluminense area of Rio de Janeiro since Monday evening. Tourism police have accused them of lying about having £1,000 worth of property stolen on a bus journey to the capital.

According to local reports, police have refused to release the two women into a more comfortable prison cell because they have not been able to prove that they are graduates. Lawyers for the two women said Miss Andrews' father Alan had now flown out with his daughter's degree certificate to try and persuade the police to release them on bail.

According to the police in Rio, the two women were arrested over the weekend on suspicion of trying to put in a fraudulent insurance claim by alleging that they had been robbed on a bus to the capital. It is alleged that when police searched their hotel room they were able to locate a number of the missing items.

Yesterday afternoon the mother of Miss Andrews, Simone Headley, appealed to the Brazilian authorities to show "fairness and leniency" over what she said was a "misunderstanding".

Speaking outside the family home in Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Ms Headley said: "I spoke to her on Monday and she seems devastated. She is absolutely traumatised, they both are. There has been a misunderstanding. Shanti and Rebecca are two hardworking young girls, never been in trouble."

Ms Headley described her daughter's imprisonment as "disproportionate" to the charges. "I don't know the actual facts of it," she said. "I believe they had some items stolen or lost and went to the police station to report it. That's when the misunderstanding occurred. It does seem disproportionate to what's happened."

Brazilian television stations showed footage of the two women handcuffed to each other during a press conference before being driven away to prison in a black SUV to Polinter de Mesquita. If convicted the pair face up to five years in prison and would likely have to abandon any hope of pursuing a career in law.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said consular staff in Brazil had been informed and were providing assistance. There are fears that the two women will be made an example of by tourism police who are keenly aware of the damage that Brazil's high crime rates can have on the tourism economy. The press release on the Policia Civil website accused tourists of "masking" Brazil's crime rates by lodging false insurance appeals that make the country appear less safe than it is.