Peru drug arrests: Women 'forced into cocaine trafficking'

16.08.2013 18:15

Two women held in Peru over
suspected drug trafficking have told a
visiting cleric they were forced at
gunpoint by Colombian gangsters to
carry the drugs.
Melissa Reid, 19, from Lenzie, near
Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum, 20,
from Dungannon, were stopped trying to
board a flight to Madrid last week.
A Catholic cleric, Sean Walsh, visited the
women in a police holding centre in
The women are due in court later where
they will be formally charged.
The BBC's Will Grant in Lima said they
are expected to enter not guilty pleas.
Video released
Police said they found more than 24lb
(11kg) of cocaine, with a street value of
£1.5m, in food packaging in the
women's luggage at the city's airport.
Mr Walsh is an Irish-American
archbishop of the Eastern Catholic
Church who has been working with
prisoners in Peru for several years. He
said he had met with the two women for
half an hour at the holding centre.
"They told me that there were a group of
Colombians that actually took them at
gunpoint and threatened them," he said.
He added that while he had not seen the
women's cells, he believed they were
being treated well.
Meanwhile in an interview with the
Daily Mirror from the holding centre, the
women claimed to have been targeted by
what the paper described as a
"mysterious Londoner" in Ibiza.
They had then been robbed of their
passports and mobile phones and taken
between Spain and Peru, shadowed by
South America gangsters, the paper
Speaking to the Mirror, the women said
they had first met each other after being
taken to the drug cartel's "safe house" in
Once in Peru, the paper said they were
"watched" on to an internal flight to the
city of Cusco, a World Heritage site close
to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, and
were given the packages to transport.
Ms Reid told the paper: "They wanted us
to act as though we were best friends
and say we were students travelling
"If we didn't do as we were told we
would be dead. We were not smuggling
for money, we were smuggling for our
She said the gang had information about
their families and had threatened to
target them too if the women tried to
escape or inform the authorities.
Biggest exporter
The National Police of Peru released a
video of the women being questioned
just after their arrest.
In it, Ms Reid answers basic questions -
such as her name and nationality - then
says she did not know what she was
She told her interviewer: "I was forced
to take these bags in my luggage".
The two women flew to Peru from Spain
where they had been on a working
holiday on the Mediterranean island of
Peru has overtaken Colombia as the
world's biggest cocaine exporter, and
charity Prisoners Abroad said it had
noticed an increase in the number of
British people arrested on drugs charges
in the country.
South American cartels supply the
lucrative European drugs market.
The women's families were unaware they
had gone to Peru and it is thought that
some family members may now travel to
Ms Reid's father, William, said there was
no way his daughter would have been
willingly involved.
Ms McCollum's family issued a statement
through their lawyer saying she denied
involvement in any criminal offence.
Prison conditions in Peru are notoriously
tough, and if convicted the women
could face many years behind bars.
Reported missing
East Dunbartonshire MP Jo Swinson said
she was "deeply concerned" to hear
about Ms Reid's arrest.
Ms Reid had posted hundreds of
photographs to her Facebook page over
the summer, but it has not been updated
since 21 July.
Ms McCollum, who holds an Irish
passport, was reported missing last week
after her family heard nothing from her
for 12 days.
The British and Irish governments
confirmed they were providing consular
assistance to the women.
A statement on the National Police of
Peru's website said the women were
alleged to have been acting as "drug
They were detained by drug enforcement
officials at Jorge Chavez International
Airport after being detected by a sniffer