UK

Peru Drugs Smuggling Accused Michaella McCollum Connolly 'Was Kidnapped' Says Lawyer

17/08/2013 18:20 BST
AP
In this Aug. 6, 2013 photo provided by Peru's National Police, Michaella McCollum Connolly, of Ireland, left, and Melissa Reid, of Britain, stand behind their luggage after being detained at the airport in Lima, Peru. Video emerged showing the two women being nervously interrogated after their detention at Lima's airport for allegedly trying to smuggle cocaine on a flight to Spain. In the video, Reid says she was forced to take "these bags" in her luggage. She says she didn't know there were drugs inside them. (AP Photo/Peru's National Police)

A solicitor for the Northern Irish woman suspected of smuggling drugs in Peru has said she was kidnapped and forced to carry cocaine.

Human rights lawyer Peter Madden, representing 20-year-old Michaella McCollum, said she claims to have been threatened by a gang of as many as 14 armed men.

"She was in fact kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced by threat to obtain and carry drugs back to Lima," said Mr Madden from the Belfast firm Madden and Finucane.

"She wasn't offered any money. She was threatened and held. She is now prepared and ready to give full details to the police who are in a questioning process."

Ms McCollum, a former nightclub host, and co-accused Melissa Reid, 20, from Scotland, were arrested as they tried to board a flight to Madrid on August 6.

Peruvian authorities say they found more than £1.5 million-worth of cocaine stashed in food products in their luggage.

Mr Madden said his client would be protesting her innocence.

"I think there is hope but it depends very much on the prosecuting authorities here as to whether or not they're going to do this in a fair way, because the process here seems to be that once you're charged there's no bail for these type of offences and she will have to go to trial," he said.

Meanwhile in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail newspaper, Ms McCollum told of the moment she realised she was being used as a drugs mule.

"That's when we realised they were drugs," she told the newspaper. "We didn't know before that what they wanted us to take: guns, money, drugs. There was no option. We just wanted to get it over and done with and not be killed."

She spoke of her relief when they were stopped by police at Lima airport.

"We felt relieved too that it was over," she said.