Thursday 27 October 2016

Michaella McCollum urged 'to shun celebrity to prove remorse is real' by ex-cop

As anger grows over convicted drug mule's 'soft' interview, former head of child protection group offers smuggler a few words of advice

Allan Preston

Published 05/04/2016 | 08:21

Glammed up: Michaella McCollum gives her interview to RTE on Sunday night.
Glammed up: Michaella McCollum gives her interview to RTE on Sunday night.
Michaella McCollum in the back of a taxi in Lima. Photo: Mark Condren

A former senior police officer has warned Michaella McCollum to shun the limelight as anger at RTE grew after the broadcaster refused to say if it paid her or her family expenses for an interview.

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Jim Gamble, an online safety expert who used to head the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said the drugs mule from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, needed to be "brutally honest" and shun celebrity to deserve a second chance.

He also described the interview as "choreographed" and claimed McCollum was not properly challenged.

Mr Gamble said that he believed the failed smuggler deserved a chance, but seeking the limelight was not the answer.

"If she wants to get into the talkshow circuit, my advice would be don't because you are going to antagonise as many people as you will get sympathy from," he added.

"She'd be far better allowing the public and people who are cynical like me to judge her on the basis of what she does."

In her RTE interview, McCollum called her actions a "moment of madness" and acknowledged that if she had been successful she would have had "blood on her hands".

She added that while she was hoping to be let home before the end of her four-year parole term, she planned to spend her time working in HIV clinics. Although a priest suggested yesterday she would work in a clerical role.

"Ten minutes working in an HIV clinic for the church does not a reformed character make," Mr Gamble said.

"Not seeking publicity or attention, going about your business of rehabilitating yourself, giving something back over a sustained period of time in a humble and unassuming way - that speaks louder than an apparently choreographed interview that lacked any form of challenge."

"When she talks about having blood on her hands, I think, 'Does she really get that?' "The documentary should have shown the pain a family goes through when a family member becomes an addict, when that addict loses their life. It's not a reality TV show.

"If you are hoping to help other young people make better decisions, be brutally honest about what you actually did. Don't use language that minimises responsibility."

RTE maintains neither McCollum nor her family were paid for the interview, which was watched by 550,000 viewers.

However, it failed to address if any expenses had been paid, saying that "production costs are commercially sensitive".

The station also confirmed it had received 83 calls and emails on the programme, admitting it was "controversial and divisive" but defending its decision to broadcast.

"RTE has a strong track record in highlighting the harm caused to individuals and society by illegal drugs and its trade, and we welcome the public discussion generated by this programme, a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a PR expert suggested the drug smuggler was coached prior to her interview.

Sonia Harris, head of Harris PR, also criticised the "soft" interview, saying: "She would probably have benefited from answering a few hard questions.

"She clearly had advice on how to do her hair and make-up and appeared like a demure person."

Ms Harris said the convicted criminal could profit from her crimes, warning she could make a six-figure sum from a book.

She added she would "hate" to see the 23-year-old cashing in on her new-found fame but warned it was a real possibility.

Elsewhere, Fr Peter McVerry, who heads Dublin's busiest addiction service, maintained the interview benefited no one.

"A programme like that won't have an influence on anybody," he said. "Anybody who is thinking that way already knows they can make a lot of money from smuggling. You don't need that programme to tell you. Anybody who isn't thinking that way already knows it is a dead road. I don't think it will have an influence on either group."

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