Lawyer says Irish woman ready to answer drug smuggling questioning

Spanish police cast doubt on Peru pair’s claims of being forced to carry cocaine by armed gang members

A screengrab taken from a video released by Peruvian police of  Melissa Reid (right) and Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) after their arrest in Lima on suspicion of drug trafficking.

A screengrab taken from a video released by Peruvian police of Melissa Reid (right) and Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) after their arrest in Lima on suspicion of drug trafficking.

 

The lawyer representing an Irish woman held in Peru last night renewed her claim she was forced by an armed gang to smuggle drugs and said she is ready for questioning.

Ms McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Scot Melissa Reid are accused of drug trafficking after over 11kg of cocaine was found hidden in their luggage as they checked in to an Aer Europa flight last week at Lima International airport.

They claim they were forced at gunpoint to make the journey from the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza - where they had been working in bars - after being befriended by a man from London.

They said they were shadowed by gang members throughout the journey and warned that if they did not pick up the drugs in Peru and bring them back to Spain their families would be killed.

Northern Ireland lawyer Peter Madden, who flew out to Peru to help prepare Ms McCollum’s defence, spoke briefly to reporters last night.

“I arrived at the police station very early this morning,” he said. “I was faced with the dilemma that Michaella was about to be questioned without a lawyer. I asked them to postpone the questioning and after a lot of arguments, they did agree to postpone the questioning.”

He said Ms Reid had spent the day being interrogated. “If it is anything to go by, Melissa has been in their since 6am this morning being questioned and she is still being questioned (it is 5.30pm now)”

Ms McCollum will be represented by local lawyers hired by Mr Madden who said she is ready to give full details to the police in the questioning process

“I have spoken to Michaella about the details of her ordeal. She was held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain and carry drugs,” he said. “The results of that questions and answers will be presented to a presiding judge who will decide whether or not there is a prima facie case. Then they will come before court, possibly next Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday.

“Michaella is denying any wrongdoing. She was kidnapped throughout the ordeal, as was the other young girl Melissa,” he said. “They were both taken advantage of by the gang. She was under severe pressure and fear.

“We are now talking to her lawyer and preparing her for questioning. She is fine. She’s upset, but she’s fine. She is prepared to work with the police. She was in a very difficult situation. People (kidnappers) didn’t give their names,” he said. “I think there is hope but it depends on the prosecution.”

The presiding judge is due to hear the charges today in the police station, Mr Madden added.

They may be held pre-charge for up to 30 days and could then spend up to three years in prison before a trial.

Meanwhile, Spanish police have cast doubt on the claims the two women were forced to carry the drugs.

The head of the Ibiza police unit responsible for countering organised crime, first sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, said he did not believe they were acting under duress.

“In my experience I don’t think these two girls were forced to do this because - particularly when you go to South America - you need to pass several controls,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“The first thing you do is go to the passport control and say ‘Listen, this is what is happening to me’. The policeman will react so I don’t think they were forced.”

Additional reporting: PA