Lawyer says Irish cocaine suspect to plead not guilty

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid expected to appear in court in Lima tomorrow

Irish woman Michaella McCollum Connolly (left)  and British woman Melissa Reid are seen being questioned by police after they were  arrested at Lima’s international airport for allegedly attempting to smuggle cocaine to Spain. Photograph: Reuters

Irish woman Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and British woman Melissa Reid are seen being questioned by police after they were arrested at Lima’s international airport for allegedly attempting to smuggle cocaine to Spain. Photograph: Reuters

 

A solicitor representing the Irish woman held on suspicion of drug-smuggling in Peru has said she will deny the charges when she appears in court.

As he left Belfast for the Peruvian capital Lima, lawyer Peter Madden confirmed that Michaella McCollum Connolly (20), from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, would deny any allegations but warned that legal proceedings could be lengthy.

Ms McCollum Connolly (20), from Co Tyrone and her Scottish co-accused, Melissa Reid (19) have claimed they were forced at gunpoint to carry €1.7 million of cocaine that was found in their luggage as they were trying to board a flight from Lima to Spain last week.

During police interviews to date, the woman have said they were forced to travel to Peru against their will after being held captive in Spain for a number of days. They also said that at no point were they offered money to transport the 11.5kg consignment of cocaine.

Speaking in Belfast today, Mr Madden said his client was doing well in police custody but it was a difficult position for a “young girl” to be in.

“It is a question of considering what the state prosecutor is proposing to do,” he said. He will discuss with local lawyers whether bail would be granted if she is charged. The experienced solicitor has already spoken to the woman and said she was doing as well as could be expected. “If she is charged, there will be a trial so it could take a while,” he said outside George Best Belfast City Airport.

Drug smuggling is considered a serious crime in Peru and the courts are usually strict when dealing with drug-related cases.

It could take months or even years before the case comes to trial. In the meantime it is unlikely Ms Connolly and Ms Reid will be considered eligible for bail.

The women claim they are victims of a violent gang who coerced them into carrying the drugs, and say they have resigned themselves to the likelihood that they face a lengthy prison term.

Ms Connolly told The Irish Times this morning her first court hearing will take place tomorrow in the same anti-drugs police unit they have been held in for the last eight days in Lima.

The girls, who are in regular telephone contact with their families, remain in good spirits and said were “dying for a hot cooked meal”.

Both added they were hopeful that they would soon have an opportunity to explain their version of events and clear their names. “We were told the preliminary hearing will take place here,” Ms Connolly said. “And then it looks likely we will be transferred to a women’s prison.”

Ms Reid’s father William arrived in Lima last night.

Following the hearing the women are expected to be transferred to the women’s prison in Chorrillos, commonly known as Santa Monica. The prison is located in the south west of the city and has an estimated 1,000 female prisoners, many of whom have their children with them.

Regulations allow imprisoned mothers to keep their children with them in jail until the child is three.

A report on the female prison population in Peru published last year showed that 38 per cent of those in jail had been sentenced with the remaining 62 per cent in the legal process.

There are an estimated 1,600 foreign prisoners in Peru from over 50 countries. Of these 235 are women. There are currently no other Irish nationals in prison in Peru.