| 6.7°C Dublin

Nephew of Phil Collins is Peru suspect as girls urged to confess


Michaella and Melissa. Photo: Reuters

Michaella and Melissa. Photo: Reuters

Michaella and Melissa. Photo: Reuters

POLICE in Peru are investigating whether a gang allegedly led by a nephew of singer Phil Collins owned the drugs found in Michaella McCollum Connolly's suitcase.

Philip Austin Collins (38) is listed as a suspect by police who are probing Michaella's claim that she was kidnapped and forced to act as a drugs mule.

Anti-drugs commander Colonel Tito Arrascue said that there are a "number of mafias" being looked at as part of the Irishwoman's case.

Among them is Collins, who is locked up in the infamous Piedras Gordas Peruvian jail on cocaine offences. He is suspected of leading a massive international drugs cartel.

Michaella (20) and Glaswegian Melissa Reid (19) claim they were held at gunpoint and forced to bring the cocaine through Lima airport.

Police caught them with 10.8kg of cocaine, worth almost €2m, hidden among food packages in their luggage.

Col Arrascue has said it is "not logical" that the girls were flown from Spain to Peru and coerced into carrying the drugs.

However, the two women maintain that they didn't even know what was in the bags.

They have now been told that they would be lucky to get away with six to eight years in prison if they admit to smuggling.



But a police chief in Peru has said that, with remission, their jail term could be reduced to two years "if they confess".

He added that they face up to six weeks before the case is fully dealt with in court.

Today details were revealed of a letter written by Melissa's mother and sent to the jail in Peru.

In it she says that the family hope "one day" she will return home safely.

"You probably won't get this before your birthday on Friday, but we will be thinking about you, my lovely girl," it says.

The girls say they were not friends or travelling companions from earlier journeys around Europe.

They were arrested after allegedly attempting to smuggle cocaine to Spain from Lima's international airport.

The two women are understood to have told visitors that they were held at gunpoint by a group of Colombians and were taken to Morocco before being brought to Peru, where they were ordered to carry the drugs.

The women's first court appearance is expected to be later this week or early next.

Under Peruvian law, anyone accused of drug smuggling can be held for up to 15 days without charge.

Solicitor Peter Madden, who is with the firm of Belfast solicitors hired by Michaella McCollum Connolly's family to co-ordinate her legal defence, said that she has denied involvement in any criminal offence.