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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Michaella was taken hostage, says solicitor

Published 17/08/2013 | 07:03

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Peter Madden, solicitor of Michaella McCollum, speaking outside a police station in Peru
Peter Madden, solicitor of Michaella McCollum, speaking outside a police station in Peru
SUNDAY LIFE NEWS missing Michaella McCollum Connolly
SUNDAY LIFE NEWS missing Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum - missing Irish woman in Ibiza
Michaella McCollum - missing Irish woman in Ibiza

A LAWYER for suspected drug smuggler Michaella McCollum Connolly has claimed she was kidnapped by a gang and forced to act as a drugs mule.

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A LAWYER for suspected drug smuggler Michaella McCollum Connolly has claimed she was kidnapped by a gang and forced to act as a drugs mule.

She is now "prepared to work with the police" in Peru in order to bring down the drugs cartel who threatened her life, said Belfast human rights lawyer Peter Madden.

Ms McCollum Connolly, who is from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and Scottish woman Melissa Reid could be charged as early as today with drug trafficking offences after being arrested by customs officers at Jorge Chavez Airport near Lima carrying cocaine worth €1.7m in their luggage.

"Michaella is denying any wrongdoing," said Mr Madden, adding that both she and Ms Reid had been "taken advantage of by a gang." He said: "She was under severe pressure and fear."

Mr Madden was speaking after the 20-year-old photography student had an emotional reunion with her brother Keith, who travelled to South America with the solicitor.

The trio had lengthy discussions for over six hours at the police station in Lima, where she is being held.

Afterwards, Mr Madden emerged, saying his client was "fine but upset".

He said he had arrived at the police station very early in the morning and was faced with the dilemma that Michaella was about to be questioned without a lawyer.

He had asked them to postpone the interview. "After a lot of arguments, they did agree to postpone the questioning," he said.

In line with Peruvian law, a judge will examine the results of those questions and answers and decide whether or not there is a prima facea case, Mr Madden explained.

Ms McCollum Connolly could be formally charged at the police station today and appear in court later.

Mr Madden said a court appearance was likely to take place early next week.

Co Monaghan-born Michaella was arrested last week at an airport in the South American country along with Scottish woman Melissa Reid on suspicion of trying to smuggle 11 kilos of cocaine to Spain.

Both women are protesting their innocence and maintain they were forced by a violent gang into carrying luggage containing the drugs.

They face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.

Under questioning, the pair stuck to a remarkable and terrifying story.

The pair told the 'Daily Mirror' they had been conscripted by a "shady Cockney character" while on holiday in Ibiza. Both were whisked to Peru under duress, chaperoned by South American gangsters.

The women, who say they had never met previously, were ordered to collect a shipment of cocaine from the tourist town of Cuzco, to pose as backpacking buddies, and to smuggle the drugs back to Spain.

If they refused to act, they claim, the cartel had threatened violence not only against them, but also against their families.

Michaella had been working as a night club hostess on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza before she vanished a number of weeks ago and turned up in jail in Peru.

Her brother Keith and Mr Madden went to the police station where Michaella is being held at about 11am local time and spent several hours inside, meeting with her to organise her defence.

Melissa Reid's father William arrived at the jail a number of hours later to see his daughter.

It is understood that Mr Madden and Michaella's brother Keith plan to meet several local lawyers who will represent her in court proceedings. A source close to the family said: "Their priority at this point is to get the best defence possible for Michaella."

Before leaving Belfast, Mr Madden said he had spoken to Michaella by phone and told reporters: "She's saying she has done nothing wrong and that she is innocent."

BY CLAIRE MURPHY IN LIMA AND CORMAC MCQUINN

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