Hugh Reilly: Let guilty do time in foreign prisons

Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, was sentenced to six years and eight months. Picture: Getty
Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, was sentenced to six years and eight months. Picture: Getty
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Welcoming Melissa Reid home would send out the wrong message to those who would profit from the misery of addiction, writes Hugh Reilly

LOSING weight does have its disadvantages. For example, as a result of jettisoning some winter blubber, my trousers are more than a tad slack around my diminished girth.

Thankfully, the inherent tightening properties of a leather belt allow me to leave my house without offending public decency.

However, when undergoing airport security checks, I am compelled to cast my belt into a plastic receptacle while simultaneously pushing out my belly to prevent the gawping public catching sight of my Primark boxer shorts.

Despite my best self-frisking efforts, I usually make the metal-detector machine bleep; the high-pitched noise causing a uniformed man in gloves to step forward and begin patting me down. His instruction to put my arms straight out is a catalyst for stress, fearing that my rapidly descending trousers may be perceived to be a cheeky invitation to strip-search me.

I think I’m on safe ground when I opine that sweating profusely and shaking uncontrollably at airport security never really caught on after the opening scenes of Midnight Express, a film that somewhat depressed demand for mini-breaks in Istanbul. Based on a true story, it sees Billy Hayes caught red-handed with packages of narcotics taped to his chest. He admits his guilt and is jailed.

On departing Lima International Airport, Paddington Bear was asked if he had packed his own luggage. Finding nothing more sinister than marmalade sandwich-making material, airport staff allowed the ursine globetrotter to make his onward journey. By way of contrast, at the same locus, airport security operatives discovered 24lbs of cocaine in the suitcase of cherub-faced Melissa Reid.

She claimed to have been coerced into carrying £1.5 million worth of the Class A substance, a statement that cracked when forensically examined by police investigators. She and her companion, Michaella McCollum Connolly, received an eight-year sentence, later reduced to six years and eight months.

Last weekend, it emerged that Reid’s father had made a prison transfer request that would see his daughter serve the remainder of her jail term in Scotland.

According to Mr Reid, he had met with the Scottish Government’s Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill. The minister had assured him that the SNP administration would not oppose such a move. Indeed, according to Reid, MacAskill stated that Melissa was “one of us”.

MacAskill’s apparent readiness to clasp a drug-pedlar to the bosom of Scottish society angers me. This is the same Kenny MacAskill who, as Shadow Justice Minister, demanded a change in the law when Canada made plans to deport Glasgow-born murderer James Bulloch to Scotland. Clearly, for MacAskill, the criterion for deciding who is “one of us” is capricious.

Likewise, I don’t recall much SNP satisfaction when Australia repatriated serial killer Archie “Mad Dog” McCafferty to Glasgow.

If the Justice Minister is willing to pick up the tab to give board and lodgings to a convicted drug mule, the law is an ass.

Reid should do her time in the country in which she committed her crime. Glasgow-born computer-hacker Gary MacKinnon created a cause célèbre when he had a shufty around the Pentagon’s hard drives. There were strident calls for him to be tried in the UK and to serve out any sentence in a British prison. Why the double standard with Reid?

To collaborate in handing her a “get out of foreign jail free” card sends out the wrong message to others contemplating a quick route to riches founded on the misery of vulnerable people. Part of the problem is that we know (too) much about Melissa Reid. We’ve read about her loving family and her good upbringing. Heck, I couldn’t have been the only person to shed a tear on hearing she’d miss her brother’s wedding due to being avoidably detained in Latin America.

Personalising a drug-carrier succeeds in sugar-coating the bitter pill that her avarice for money would have led to untold pain for families of Peruvian cocaine users. If we could personalise the true victims of the drug industry and show the horror of premature deaths, dysfunctional families and crime-ridden neighbourhoods that are a direct consequence of addiction, perhaps Reid would be encouraged to shut up and suck up her punishment. It bothers me that, on touching down in Alba, Reid will be regarded as a low-risk prisoner. Mum and Dad will enjoy her home leave visits, unlike the parents of dead addicts doomed to endure cemetery visits. Given her status in Her Majesty’s Prison system, Reid will, in all likelihood, be released early with electronic tagging.

The hypocritical attitude of our politicians to the so-called “war on drugs” is mind-boggling. No stone is left unturned to apprehend those who supply illegal highs that kill users.

The recent death of 17-year-old Regane MacColl, inside The Arches nightclub, is a case in point. Despite stringent ID checks and searches for drugs, she apparently ingested a Mortal Kombat ecstasy tablet that took her life.

Imagine, just for a moment, that the dealer responsible for her death held Peruvian citizenship. Would MacAskill be sympathetic to a prisoner transfer request to Lima? Indeed, what would be the reaction of the Scottish public to the drug pedlar being allowed to swan off to Latin America after completing less than a year of his sentence handed down by a Scottish judge?

As a father of four children, I understand why Mr Reid craves the return of his daughter – I’d feel no different if my daughter were in a similar situation.

However, to subvert the verdict of the Peruvian legal system by accepting her return would be a tragedy. Mr MacAskill, when asked to help a drug mule, just say “No”.