TWO women accused of trying to smuggling cocaine worth £1.5m out of Peru have been sent to prison to await trial.
Michaella McCollum, 20, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, and Melissa Reid, 20, from Glasgow, face a maximum prison sentence of 15 years if convicted of drug trafficking.
Following a hearing on Tuesday, they were back at court yesterday when they were formally charged with the promotion of drug trafficking and refused bail. It could be at least another three years before their case comes to trial.
Peruvian police say they found around 24lb of cocaine – said to have a street value of around £1.3m – hidden in their luggage.
The women have been in custody since their arrest at a check-in desk at Lima airport last week before they were due to board a flight to Madrid.
Reid and McCollum, who both deny the allegations, say they were forced to carry the bags by armed Colombian criminals who captured them on the Spanish island of Ibiza and threatened both them and their families.
Both women had travelled separately to Ibiza in search of work this summer before disappearing.
Before news of the arrests broke, the family of Ms McCollum, a photography student and former nightclub hostess, had launched an internet campaign, fearing she was missing.
At yesterday’s hearing, however, prosecutors argued their story did not add up and the judge questioned why, if true, they had not approached police or security at Lima airport to ask for help.
McCollum’s lawyer, Peter Madden, said they had effectively begun serving a prison sentence after being refused bail.
“Their main concern at the minute is that they may be separated, sent to different prisons,” he said. “They are very concerned that might happen. They did not know each other before this started, they have now become best friends.”