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Monday 26 September 2016

Anger as Michaella McCollum celebrates return to Ireland with 'hero's homecoming' party

Cate McCurry

Published 15/08/2016 | 07:42

Michaella McCollum arrives back in Ireland.
Michaella McCollum arrives back in Ireland.
Michaella McCollum in Dublin Airport. Picture: Sean Defoe
Michaella McCollum Connolly

The return of high-profile convicted drugs mule Michaella McCollum from Peru to a party resembling a hero's homecoming in Ireland has sparked anger.

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The glamorous 23-year-old Co Tyrone woman flew into Dublin on Saturday night after travelling from Lima - where she had been on parole for attempting to smuggle £1.5m of cocaine.

It was the first time the notorious woman had been in Ireland in over three years after she was arrested at Lima airport in August 2013.

She is believed to have spent her first night home partying and celebrating her release with family and friends in Co Tyrone.

But her arrival has sparked fury from politicians.

DUP MLA Lord Morrow was critical of her homecoming, saying it resembled that of a "minor celebrity".

"This is the return of a convicted criminal yet a great deal of the publicity which appears to surround her currently resembles a minor celebrity," he said.

"The harm caused by the drugs she attempted to smuggle affects communities everywhere and that should not be forgotten.

"A question which remains is whether her return will be followed by attempts to remain in the public eye, or even to profit from the notoriety she achieved with her crimes.

"The focus should be on the victims of drug abuse in our society and not those who contributed to their harm."

Michaella McCollum and Scotswoman Melissa Reid stand as they are questioned by police in Lima airport in 2013
Michaella McCollum and Scotswoman Melissa Reid stand as they are questioned by police in Lima airport in 2013
Michaella McCollum Connolly during an interview with RTE

McCollum was released from prison in Peru on March 31 after spending less than three years behind bars with Scot Melissa Reid.

She had been ordered to spend the next six years of her sentence on parole in the city.

But after reports that McCollum made a secret deal with Peruvian authorities recently, she was given permission to fly back to Northern Ireland.

Read more: Watch: Convicted drug smuggler Michaella McCollum has arrived back in Ireland

The MP for the area, Tom Elliott, said it would be "more appropriate" if she had remained in the South American country to finish her parole.

"She served her time in prison but people will be asking was that enough and does it fit the crime?" he asked.

"I would have thought that if it was part of her conditions that she had to remain in Peru, then it would be more appropriate to remain there at this stage and it would have been seen as better justice.

"There will be a mixed reaction with her arriving home.

"Friends and family may probably be pleased to see her coming back whereas others will say it's a pretty serious crime, she should have done the full sentence. A lot of people could have been seriously damaged and had their health seriously damaged if she would have pursued with that crime."

McCollum arrived in Dublin at around 8.30pm on Saturday.

She walked through the arrivals area alone but did not talk to the waiting press as she dragged two suitcases behind her.

She remained outside for several minutes for family members.

When asked where she had planned to go by reporters, she replied: "Home."

However, hours before she landed in Dublin, the former dancer posted pictures on Instagram as she prepared for her long journey home.

Wearing a black vest top and black jeans, Michaella was greeted by two females before making her way back to Dungannon where she was met by other family members.

McCollum and Reid - nicknamed the Peru Two - were working in Ibiza for the summer when they travelled to South America three years ago. They were arrested as they attempted to smuggle the cocaine in their suitcases. However, they denied knowing the luggage contained drugs, claiming they had been kidnapped and forced to become drug runners.

They later admitted the offence and were jailed for six years and eight months.

In June, McCollum was criticised after being pictured living it up in the capital Lima with fellow cocaine smuggler Kaouthar Essafi, who she befriended in prison.

Following her release from prison, she was spotted partying in nightclubs and dining out at plush restaurants, despite agreeing to do charity work while living with a local priest.

Belfast Telegraph

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