Michaella McCollum: Drug smuggling a ‘moment of madness’

Convicted drugs mule says she wants to demonstrate she is a ‘good person’

Appearing in her first interview since being released from Peruvian prison, Michaella McCollum insists she is 'not a bad person'. Video: RTÉ


Michaella McCollum has said her decision to smuggle almost €2 million worth of cocaine was “a moment of madness”.

McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was released from prison in Peru on Friday, 2½ years after her arrest at Lima Airport for possession of cocaine.

The 23-year-old’s case attracted considerable media coverage when, in August 2013, she and Scottish woman Melissa Reid were caught trying to board a flight from Lima to Madrid carrying 11kg of cocaine.

The women initially claimed they were forced into carrying the drugs, but later pleaded guilty.

McCollum, a former nightclub dancer, was living in Spain when she flew to Peru for the botched attempt to smuggle drugs back to Spain. She and Reid, from Glasgow, had faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term, but struck a plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.

Ms McCollum spoke to RTÉ One in an interview – aired on Sunday night – about her arrest, imprisonment and recent release.

The courts in Peru have yet to set out the conditions of her parole – including whether she would be obliged to remain in Peru for a period of time.

She was originally imprisoned for six years and 8 months.

Speaking about her decision to smuggle drugs, she said: “If the drugs had of got back [to Europe] what could have happened, I probably would have had a lot of blood on my hands,” she said. “I potentially could have filled Europe full of a lot of drugs.

“I could have potentially killed a lot of people, not directly but I could have caused a lot of harm to people. I made a decision in a moment of madness.I’m not a bad person . . . I want to demonstrate that I’m a good person.”

Ms McCollum said her release from prison has made her appreciate “the things that everybody takes for granted in life”.

“Seeing the sun, seeing the darkness, seeing the moon and the stars, things I haven’t seen in almost three years.”

‘Very naïve’

Ms McCollum said she “didn’t understand the consequences of a bad decision. I was very naïve, I was so young very insecure, a lot of times I didn’t know how to say no to something.

“In life, everybody makes mistakes, people make mistakes, it doesn’t make them a bad person. I’m not the same person that I was when I committed the crime . . . I’ve matured a lot, I’ve learnt a lot of things that 10 years in university I probably couldn’t learn,” she said.

Ms McCollum said the night before she and Ms Reid smuggled the drugs she became worried and got sick with nerves.

“The night before that’s when it became a reality and we had to pack our cases . . . I felt sick . . . sick with nerves . . . sick with worry.

“I remember getting sick . . . standing in the airport, knowing that I’m doing something wrong . . . I didn’t know how to walk away,” she said.

Ms McCollum said she will have to live with the guilt of what she has done for the rest of her life.

“The guilt . . . it’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life . . . of course that was never my intention to let that happen . . . and when I think about it I try not to think about it because it makes me hate myself to be capable of causing that much pain and suffering. I don’t think that guilt is ever going to go away because how could I forgive myself for doing that,” she said.

“The amount of families that that would have ruined . . . I did that, I caused destruction to society and who am I to be able to do that,” she said.

Ms McCollum said if the drugs had have been smuggled into the country, she would have had “blood on her hands”.

“I thought I’m just picking up something and bringing it back, I never thought of the contents and what’s inside and what it could do to people,” she said.

Ms McCollum and Ms Reid initially claimed they were forced into the crime by drug cartel gunmen who threatened their families but admitted it was a lie and pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in return for a reduced sentence.

“I was scared to take responsibility because I didn’t know what would happen then,” she said.

Ms McCollum said she plans to study psychology and said that she believes she deserves a second chance.

Prison in Peru airs at 9.30pm on RTÉ One.