THE two British women accused of trying to smuggle £1.5 million of cocaine out of Peru have pleaded guilty.
Melissa Reid, of Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, appeared with Michaella McCollum Connolly, of County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, in a Lima court.
The pair, both 20, admitted trying to fly from the Peruvian capital to Spain with more than 11 kilograms of the class-A drug in their suitcases, and now face more than six years in jail when sentenced next week.
The cocaine was found hidden in food packaging when they arrived at Lima airport on 6 August. Both women claimed they had been forced by armed gangsters to carry the drugs.
They had been told by the prosecutor that if they accepted the charges, they would face a minimum of six years and eight months in prison with no opportunity for parole.
Their guilty plea means they will avoid a trial in Peru on drug trafficking charges, conviction for which carries a 15-year jail term.
They arrived in court in handcuffs, carrying plastic bags and holding bottles of water and surrounded by guards. They admitted their guilt at a private hearing in a makeshift courtroom at a men’s jail in Lima.
Reid had already made it known she intended to plead guilty at the first opportunity in the hope of striking a deal for a shorter sentence.
The two women’s cases were heard separately for half-an-hour each. They were each asked to say their names and ages before being given the chance to speak.
Their lawyer, Meyer Fishman, declined to comment but a court spokesman in charge of the investigation confirmed pleas had been entered.
The spokesman said: “Both women have pleaded guilty to drugs trafficking. It means they automatically benefit from a sixth off the minimum jail sentence of eight years and will be sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
“Sentencing has not taken place yet and a new hearing where the women will be sentenced has now got to be arranged. But it’s likely that will take place in around a week’s time.”
The pair are currently being held in the Virgen de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima) prison in the Peruvian capital.
Reid had said that she did not want to be in prison until she was 35.
She previously maintained she and McCollum Connolly were forced to attempt to smuggle the packages out of Peru, and claimed they were not paid.
Speaking earlier this month, Reid said: “I am really scared about what I am about to do but I am also relieved that there could be a light at the end of the tunnel.
“After a lot of thought and advice from my lawyer, I am going to go in front of the judge and admit I was in possession of the drugs and went to Peru to pick up drugs to take to Spain – I am willing to plead guilty to that.
“I did it under duress, I still maintain that, and I am glad I do not have to say I accepted money to do it.”
The women claim they were forced to act as drug mules by an armed gang who threatened them and their families.
They had told the Peruvian authorities they were working in Ibiza and did not meet before they were both threatened at gunpoint.
Reid’s father, William, previously said he believed the pair should plead guilty in order to get the legal process over quickly, so he could start pushing for her to be transferred to Scotland.”
Such a process can take time and negotiation, and Reid and McCollum Connolly will need to show they can behave well in jail, pass legal, social, medical and psychological tests and can fund their own tickets back.
Meantime, the pair are expected to be transferred to a modern prison in the desert north of Lima.
Foreign prisoners have traditionally been sent to the Santa Monica jail in Chorrillos.
However, the authorities have recently let convicts serve time at Ancon 2, which is said to have improved conditions.
According to Peru’s national prisons institute, 90 per cent of the 1,648 foreigners in its prisons are either sentenced or awaiting trial for drug trafficking.