Michaella McCollum released from Peru jail, solicitor says

Drug smuggler received parole but unclear if she is allowed to return home to Co Tyrone

Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid attend court at the Justice Court of Callao, Peru, on August 21st, 2013. File photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid attend court at the Justice Court of Callao, Peru, on August 21st, 2013. File photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

 

Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum has been released from prison in Peru, though it remains unclear when she will be free to return to Ireland.

A solicitor in Ireland speaking for McCollum and her family said the 23-year-old had been granted parole and released on Thursday night. However, the courts in Peru have yet to set out the conditions of her parole.

It appears this includes whether she would be obliged to remain in Peru, at liberty, until the term of her sentence, or a portion of it, expires.

Belfast solicitor Kevin Winters said he was hopeful of clarity very soon.

Mr Winters said the Co Tyrone woman, sentenced to six years and eight months in 2013 for smuggling cocaine valued at €1.8 million, had not been released under any repatriation scheme or protocol between the UK and Peru.

“At this stage it remains unclear when Michaela may be eligible to return home,” Mr Winters said it a statement issued on behalf of the McCollums.

“That will be a matter for the court and a pending judicial hearing to determine the conditions of her parole. We are working with her lawyers in Peru and hope to be in a position to clarify further, as soon as possible.”

McCollum’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 from there 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.

After conviction they were moved from Lima’s Virgen de Fatima prison to the Ancon 2 prison, where up to 30 prisoners are reportedly crammed into a cell.

The situation at the mixed prison, which is 2½ hours outside Lima, has previously been criticised by the Irishwoman’s lawyer as “appalling”.

Mr Winters said last year sanitation and toilet facilities were extremely poor at the jail and that all women have to use a hole in the ground which has to be covered up because of the presence of vermin.

Last year the Northern Irish and Scottish authorities approved an arrangement under which the women could serve some of their sentences in their home countries of the Peruvians agreed to repatriate them.

The arrangement was approved in the North mainly because of the hardship associated with the jailed woman maintaining contact with her family back in Dungannon.

However, because McCollum has not been released on parole rather than any agreement between Peru and the authorities in the UK, the prospect of serving prison time in the North on her return there does not appear to arise.

Reid remains in prison in Peru.