Michaella faces long wait for drugs trial as judge denies bail
SUSPECTED drugs mule Michaella McCollum Connolly has been refused bail and could face up to three years in a Peruvian prison awaiting trial.
A judge questioned why Ms McCollum Connolly (20), from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, and her travelling companion, Melissa Reid (20), from Glasgow, did not alert authorities to their plight if they were being forced to smuggle cocaine.
During the hearing yesterday the two women sat quietly as they waited to find out what will happen them next.
At the Palace of Justice in the port city of Callao, the judge believed there was enough evidence to formally charge them with trying to smuggle drugs though Jorge Chazev airport in Lima.
Michaella's lawyer Peter Madden had hoped that the court would consider bail while prosecutors prepare for a full trial hearing. However, this was completely ruled out, meaning that they will spend months, and possibly even years, behind bars, while awaiting the full trial.
"The main thing here at the moment is that both girls will be in effect serving a prison sentence from the day they've been arrested, regardless because there is no bail here.
"So that means that innocent or guilty, they're going to be serving a prison sentence," Mr Madden said.
Peru's State Prosecution service confirmed the pair could face between eight to 15 years behind bars if found guilty of trafficking cocaine using transport in Lima.
The two women were arrested at Lima's Jorge Chavez airport on August 6. Authorities say they had more than five kilos of cocaine each in their suitcases.
Michaella and Melissa, who had been working in bars in Ibiza over the summer, both insist they were forced to carry the drugs worth nearly €1.7m and were in fear of their lives from Colombian gangsters.
They have been locked up in anti-narcotics unit in Lima since August 6 but have now been moved to a holding centre outside the city where conditions are much more severe.
The district prosecutor last night told the court that when Melissa Reid's camera was searched at the airport pictures were found of the pair apparently enjoying a holiday in Lima, with snaps of them on the beach and with local police officers on the street.
The prosecutor said the women's story was "incoherent" and not the actions of a pair who were being held at gunpoint by Columbian drug traffickers.
He also said the cocaine found in the women's luggage weighed nearly 12kg. He noted that the sentence for this quantity of cocaine needed to be between eight and 15 years in prison and they should not be granted bail.
When the judge asked the women who had threatened them they replied that they did not know.
Mr Madden said the bail hearing and the legal system in Peru was convoluted and complicated, adding "we are just feeling our way".
Mr Madden told the public hearing the women had co-operated with the police and indicated they had no intention to hide the real guilty person.
When bail was not granted the pair were taken into custody of the prison system and led away for their first taste of jail, having been held in police detention since their arrest.
Mr Madden urged the Peruvian authorities not to separate the two women.
"They didn't know each other before all this started. They've now become best friends, I hope they are going to be kept in the same prison wherever it is. I think that is essential because if the authorities try to separate them it will indicate they are trying to break their will," he said.
By Claire Murphy in Lima