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Friday 29 August 2014

In handcuffs: Michaella and Melissa appear before court

Jennifer Cockerell and Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

Published 20/08/2013 | 15:43

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Police escort Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid as they are moved from the National Police anti-drug headquarters to a court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru.
British citizen Melissa Reid (front C) and Belfast resident Michaella McCollum Connolly (back C) are escorted by police after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao, August 20, 2013. McCollum Connolly and Reid were detained in Lima last week, accused of trying to smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine to Europe. The two women have protested their innocence, saying they were forced to carry items in their luggage at gunpoint. Peruvian officials say the two women were en route to Madrid and Majorca on August 6 when airport officials discovered almost 12 kilos (26 lbs) of cocaine hidden inside food packages in their luggage. The cocaine was said to have a street value of some two million U.S. dollars. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo (PERU - Tags: CRIME LAW DRUGS SOCIETY)
Police escort Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly

A HANDCUFFED Michaella McCollum emerged from the National Police anti-drug headquarters before being brought to court to find out if she would be charged.

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Michaella (20), from Dungannon, Co Tryone, and Melissa Reid (20), from Glasgow, who were arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth €1.7 million from Peru have appeared in court to find out if they will be charged.

Both women have spent the last two weeks in custody over drug trafficking allegations.

The pair were arrested while trying to board a flight from Lima to Madrid. Peruvian police said they found around 11 kilos (24lb) of cocaine hidden inside food packages.

They are due to officially hear the charges against them later after making statements.

The women, who both deny the allegations and say they were forced to carry the bags under duress, are expected to enter not guilty pleas. They made no comment as they entered the court in Lima.

Officers say they have concluded their initial investigation into the case with their findings forming the basis of a pre-trial hearing that will determine what the pair are to be charged with.

If refused bail, the women face up to three years in jail before a trial.

They both deny the allegations and claim they were forced to carry the bags by armed men.

But yesterday further questions about the two women's version of events were raised following the emergence of photographs that allegedly show them posing on a balcony and on a beach with glasses of beer days before they were arrested at Lima airport.

Melissa Reid after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao
Melissa Reid after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao
Michaella McCollum Connolly on her way to court to be formally charged for drug trafficking in Lima, Peru.
British citizen Melissa Reid (front C) and Belfast resident Michaella McCollum Connolly (back C) are escorted by police after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao, August 20, 2013. McCollum Connolly and Reid were detained in Lima last week, accused of trying to smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine to Europe. The two women have protested their innocence, saying they were forced to carry items in their luggage at gunpoint. Peruvian officials say the two women were en route to Madrid and Majorca on August 6 when airport officials discovered almost 12 kilos (26 lbs) of cocaine hidden inside food packages in their luggage. The cocaine was said to have a street value of some two million U.S. dollars. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo (PERU - Tags: CRIME LAW DRUGS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Melissa Reid after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao

The pair say they were told to take photos of themselves at tourist spots to make it look like they were friends travelling together.

Both women travelled separately to the party island of Ibiza in search of work this summer.

Before news of the arrests broke, the family of Ms McCollum, a photography student and former nightclub hostess, had launched an internet campaign, fearing she was missing.

Meanwhile, a senior Spanish police officer said he did not believe they had been acting under duress.

First Sergeant Alberto Arian Barilla, head of the Ibiza police unit responsible for countering organised crime, said: "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.

"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."

Ms McCollum's lawyer, Peter Madden, denied a variety of media reports that had emerged about his client alleging involvement with drugs.

"Michaella McCollum did not owe any money to any drugs dealer, she was not and is not involved in the drugs trade, she has no criminal record, she has never been in trouble with the police in her life," he said.

"She was not seen on video carrying drugs, as was alleged in one newspaper, she was carrying a handbag, it was her handbag, it was pretty obvious it wasn't drugs, but that was the report.

"She was not out shopping in Lima and spending a lot of money, that didn't happen."

He said both women would be moved out of the police centre to court custody ahead of their appearance.

"I don't know at this stage when a decision will be made as to the actual prosecution itself, or when the investigating judge will actually make a decision," he added.

Mr Madden said the women had been kept in harsh conditions but had been treated well.

"They are fairly tough conditions, there's not an awful lot to eat there, but she's been treated fairly well by the police and by the people in the police centre," he said.

The pair were pictured being escorted by officers from the National Police anti-drug headquarters in Peru to court, where they are expected to be formally charged.

Ms Reid, who was wearing a green jumper, appeared to be handcuffed as she was helped into a waiting vehicle.

Wearing a black leather jacket and t-shirt, Ms McCollum stood behind, also under guard.

The neatly dressed girls were quickly pushed the large media scrum into a waiting police van.

The girls are being moved to the port city of Callao where they will be subject to an “administrative procedure”.

The Peruvian system is very different from Ireland in that the proceedings will take place behind closed doors with no press allowed.

“They will be held in judicial custody in Callao for two or three more days,” a source said.

Michaella’s lawyer Peter Madden said: “It is a very short procedure, it will last maybe less than one hour, it will all be conducted privately, it will not be an open court, it will be more like an administrative process.

 “I think the consensus of opinion is that they will each be charged with just over 5kg; that is what we are hoping.”

After their formal court appearance, it is likely both will be transferred to the infamous Santa Monica prison.

Michaella (20) wore quilted black biker jacket, white t-shirt and skinny jeans with her hair a top-knot as she walked from the anti-drugs prison.

Melissa, who is from Scotland, wore black leggings and a green top.

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