Friday 26 December 2014

Michaella McCollum Connolly prison move: It’s a miracle, says priest friend of Peru drugs mule

Joanne Sweeney

Published 07/08/2014 | 07:19

Drug mule Michaella McCollum Connolly is expected to be returned to Northern Ireland from Peru to finish her jail sentence.

It is understood it could be a matter of weeks before the 21-year-old Dungannon woman is repatriated to serve the remainder of her six-year, eight-month sentence.

McCollum Connolly is currently serving the sentence in one of Peru's main prisons, Ancon 2.

On her return she is expected to be placed in Ash House women's unit at Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

The news comes a year after she and fellow drug smuggler Melissa Reid from Scotland – who is also to be repatriated – were arrested at Lima Airport attempting to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine into the South American country.

The women were caught with 11kg (24lb) of cocaine in their luggage in August 2013, but claimed they had been kidnapped and forced to carry it by Colombian gangsters.

Irish-born Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.
Irish-born Michaella McCollum, handcuffed, arrives for a court hearing, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.
Michaella McCollum Connolly
Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid
Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid were jailed last year for six years and eight months. (AP)
CAUGHT: Michaella McCollum Connolly, left, and Melissa Reid

The repatriation agreement has required extensive multi-agency work behind the scenes to facilitate the rare international procedure.

It required substantial co-ordination with the various embassies, the UK National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Peruvian Prison Service, along with the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Last night her family's solicitor Kevin Winters admitted he did not know when the young woman would be flown home, but that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs had confirmed that the Peruvian authorities had accepted the transfer request.

"I've never worked on such a case before like this with such an international dimension involving a prison," said Mr Winters.

"Her family is anxious for this to take place as quickly as possible as they have endured a significant amount of stress. The conditions that Michaella was first living in when she was transferred to Ancon 2 were absolutely appalling. They were grim.

"And she was living in that for several weeks until a combined effort from her family and various agencies at home and in Lima helped get her transferred to a more acceptable part of the prison at the end of May."

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director, welcomed the news and said: "With massive overcrowding, poor access to medical care and endemic corruption throughout Peru's penal system, it is understandable that prisoners from the UK and Ireland, such as Michaella McCollum Connolly, want to return home to complete their sentences."

Michaella McCollum Connolly first came to attention via a Facebook plea from her family after she went missing while on a working holiday in Ibiza last summer. Days later it became clear that she and another summer worker Melissa Reid had been arrested at Lima Airport after being caught with 11kg of cocaine in their bags.

Belfast Telegraph

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