A SCOTTISH drug trafficker and her Northern Irish friend who were caught trying to smuggle £1.5 million of cocaine out of Peru have been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
Melissa Reid, from Lenzie, East Dunbartonshire, and Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, County Tyrone, were sentenced yesterday after pleading guilty to drug smuggling in September. The pair, both 20, had faced up to 15 years in prison but struck a behind-closed-doors plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.
They appeared briefly before Judge Pedro Miguel Puente Bardales. Judicial spokesman Daniel Vega said: “The women were very calm as the sentence was handed down at the court in the Sarita Colonia prison.
“They will now begin serving their sentence in the Santa Monica prison.”
But Mr Vega warned: “It is still not clear whether they will be able to serve part of their sentence in the UK. The judge said that was not a decision for the court and they would have to reach an agreement with the prosecution.”
As at previous hearings, the women were kept handcuffed behind a metal cage. Judge Bardales read out the sentence at the end of the 20-minute private hearing. A court spokesman added: “They were not required to reiterate their guilty pleas as that was something they had done on a previous occasion.
“They have obviously renounced their right to appeal by agreeing to the sentence.”
They also agreed to pay 10,000 Peruvian soles – around £2,220 each – in compensation. The cash will have to be paid before there is any possibility of them being transferred to a UK jail or being allowed to return home having served out their sentences in Peru.
Last night, Reid and McCollum returned as convicts to a cell they have been sharing with nearly 40 other inmates at Santa Monica women’s prison, where they have been held since October.
From August until October, they were held at the nearby Virgen de Fatima (Our Lady of Fatima) prison, where they had shared a large cell together in what were said to be comparatively good conditions.
Both women, who had been working on the Spanish party island of Ibiza this summer, had previously claimed they were coerced into carrying the cocaine by Colombian drug lords who they said had kidnapped them at gunpoint.
They said they were forced to board a flight from Lima to Spain with 24lb of cocaine in food packets hidden inside their luggage.
They are now expected to seek permission to serve out part of their sentence in the UK although they have been warned by their lawyers the process is fraught with bureaucratic hurdles.
The decision marked the end of weeks of worry for the pair after failing to persuade prosecutors to accept their guilty pleas at an earlier hearing.
Reid had confessed in a diary entry leaked at the weekend that she was prepared for the worst although the chief prosecutor revealed last week he was happy to do a deal after the women made new statements about their drugs running.
The six years and eight months they received is the minimum sentence under Peruvian law for drugs traffickers, who benefit from Peru’s so-called early termination process and avoid trial by pleading guilty and persuading prosecutors to accept their confessions.
The discount represents a sixth off the usual minimum sentence of eight years.
Reid’s parents, energy company manager Billy, 54, and National Grid administrator Debra, 53, had backed them but admitted in September that a guilty plea was the best course of action for their daughter and her friend.
Mrs Reid had said in an interview ahead of a court hearing in late September, during which they failed to strike a deal with prosecutors: “She [Melissa] was definitely carrying the drugs in her luggage. That’s for sure.
“But we still believe she was coerced into it.
“Obviously, now we realise she needs to plead guilty just to get her home.”
Reid, speaking from her cell in Peru, said at the time: “After a lot of thought and advice from my lawyer, I’m going to admit I was in possession of the drugs and that I went to Peru to pick up drugs to take to Spain.
“Pleading guilty is going to get me back to my family sooner rather than later.
“I don’t want to be in jail until I’m 35.”
Peruvian police and prosecutors have said from the start that they never believed the women’s stories about being forced to smuggle drugs.
Police chief Tito Perez, head of the Peruvian anti-drug unit’s investigations branch, where Reid and McCollum were held for a fortnight after their arrest, said: “What the women said about being kidnapped by armed mafia and forced to come to Peru was illogical.”
Juan Mendoza Abarca, the original chief prosecutor, claimed their stories were “incredible” and they had been coached in what to say when taken into custody.
He added: “They staged this whole thing from the beginning because they knew it was possible they would get caught and if they did get caught, they had the excuses really well planned.
“It’s very obvious they were trained in what to say if they were caught. They were prepared in every sense.”
Self-help book for someone to read with time on their hands
THE book Michaella McCollum Connolly was snapped carrying into the court yesterday was a self-help guide called Secrets About Life Every Woman Should Know: Ten principles for spiritual and emotional fulfilment.
Written by relationship guru Barbara De Angelis, the best-selling book is described on Amazon as an “inspirational guide for creating the true freedom women of all ages are seeking – the freedom that comes from knowing how to tap into powerful inner state of confidence, clarity, and peace – and how to protect it from life’s ups and downs.”
A prolific author, Ms De Angelis has written many books, including the appositely-titled How Did I Get Here?
In Secrets About Life … she offers readers help in discovering “a sense of real emotional security that nothing and no-one can ever take away” and how to experience the “kind of lasting happiness you’ve always hoped was possible”,
An exercise in positive-thinking, Ms De Angelis’s book aims to tutor her readers in how to work with, rather than against, the flow of change in their life, and learn from the obstacles that are put in their way “rather than be hindered by them”.
It also offers slightly more intangible goals about becoming “bigger than your own fear”, and discovering that “everything you need to be happy is inside you.”