Tuesday 23 December 2014

Michaella McCollum Connolly's family in shock at Peru arrest

- Sister reveals fears for 'baby' of family
- 20-year-old 'not reported missing'

Paul Melia, Gerard Couzens, Adrian Rutherford and Catherine McCurry

Published 12/08/2013 | 05:00

Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum Connolly

THE family of an Irishwoman accused of attempting to smuggle more than €1.7m worth of cocaine into Europe have spoken of their concerns for their "baby".

Michaella McCollum Connolly (20), from Dungannon in Northern Ireland, is being held in a women's jail in Peru after being arrested with a British girl at Lima's Jorge Chavez international airport last Tuesday.

Her older sister last night said her family had been "stunned" by her arrest.

Speaking at the family home in Dungannon, Samantha McCollum said they were trying to "get our heads around" the news.

"She's the baby, I'm her older sister," she said.

"This is a normal family – this is not a normal situation. Right now, we don't know (what's happening) – it's all in the air."

She moved to Ibiza in June for the summer and her worried family launched an internet campaign to find her after they had not heard from her for nearly two weeks.

But last night it emerged that Spanish police were not investigating her disappearance because they had not been notified that she was missing.

Notorious Santa Monica women's prison in Lima where Michaella McCollum Connolly could end up if convicted. Photo: Getty Images

"We have nothing on this girl," a police source said. "As far as I am aware no one had formally reported her missing to us."

She faces up to 25 years behind bars if convicted of the offence. It is understood she will be told this week when she will appear in court.

Speaking yesterday, Samantha said the family were in shock.

"At the moment, we're just upset, we don't want nobody coming to the door."

She said her mother, Nora, has been particularly upset.

UPSETTING

"We're just trying to not think of the media right now because some stuff is quite upsetting for mummy and there's been some pictures in the paper which are very distressing," she added.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said officials from the Irish Embassy in Mexico were offering consular assistance and had spoken to her.

The British embassy in Lima is also offering assistance. Her co-accused has been named as Melissa Reid (19) from Lenzie near Glasgow.

"It's our embassy in Mexico which has responsibility for Peru," a spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

"We're providing consular assistance through Mexico and Dublin.

"There's a British embassy on the ground which is providing help to both girls."

Ms McCollum Connolly was living in Belfast and left Ireland in June for Ibiza, where she was seeking work.

She was studying photography at Belfast Metropolitan College, and turned up last week in Peru, where she was arrested at an Air Europa check-in desk as they prepared to board a flight to Majorca with a stop-over in Madrid.

Peruvian police claimed she and Ms Reid were arrested after 11kg of cocaine, worth some €1.7m, was found concealed in food packed into their luggage.

Drug smuggling in Peru carries a prison sentence of between eight and 15 years, but increases to 15-25 years for those convicted of smuggling more than 10kg of cocaine. Former counsel general in Lima, Michael Russell, said that the severity of the sentence would relate to the size of the drugs haul, adding that Peruvian jails were "horrible".

"They are pretty dour and pretty horrible," he said.

"It's all a matter of money, quite frankly.

"You have to buy your space, you have to buy your food. If you don't have money you suffer quite a lot."

LAWYERS

In Peru, the state will appoint a solicitor if the defendant does not have one.

Mr Russell said they are "not always the best" lawyers.

The two women are being held in a women's prison and will be dealt with by the fourth criminal court of Callao.

A Spanish documentary broadcast last year revealed most drug mules are paid between €6,000 and €12,000 to smuggle up to 10kg of cocaine.

Some 248 people were arrested at Jorge Chavez international airport in 2012.

Irish Independent

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