Peru drug arrests: credibility of suspects' claims in question

Aug 19, 2013

Doubt cast on gang coercion story told by Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly

DOUBTS have been cast on the claims made by two UK women arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking in Peru.

Melissa Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum Connolly, from Dungannon, both 20, have been accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Lima airport on 6 August.

The Peruvian police investigation is expected to be passed to the state prosecutor's office later today so formal charges can be made.

The women have insisted they were forced by an armed gang to travel from Ibiza, where they were working in bars and nightclubs, to Peru and transport the drugs back to Spain.

Peter Madden, a Belfast lawyer acting for McCollum Connolly, says his client was threatened with death by a gang of 14 armed men and is prepared to give the full details to police. However, First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, head of the anti-drug and organised crime police unit in Ibiza, has questioned the credibility of their story.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Particularly when you go to South America, you need to pass several controls so the first thing you [would] do is go to the passport control and say 'Listen, this is what is happening to me', and the police will react - so I don't think they were forced."

Meanwhile, a taxi driver, who claims he chauffeured the pair on a shopping spree around Lima before their arrest, says the women appeared "relaxed and happy", according to the Daily Mail.

Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, a criminology lecturer at the University of Leicester, has also said their experience did not appear to be typical. Women represent about 20 per cent of drug mules, she said, but added that "does not mean that their story is not plausible".

Police in Peru have said a guilty plea could mean the women face as little as two years in prison, while a not guilty plea carries the risk of a 25-year sentence if convicted.

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For some strange reason these girls are getting an easy ride from the Irish media. A campaign is being orchestrated by the family and seems to revolve on foreign types are evil, young white girls are innocent.

If I hear one more story about people on holiday or working the bars in Ibiza being seduced or coerced by drug gangs that prey on the weaknesses of desperate people who are tempted to take such foolish risks, I will fly over there and hand out flyers in front of the bars that say something like: "They don't give a damn about you. They are using you and you will get nailed while their real drug couriers get away". If I can reach just one desperate person, then it would be worth the trip.

Dare I say it serves them right or is that a bit harsh? I am tired of hearing about these "poor girls or women" who get caught smuggling drugs. They do it for quick money but spending many years in a sordid jail cell far away from home might discourage other young women from making the same mistake. They had 11 kilos of cocaine for heavens sake!