Peru drug mule accused to meet trial judge

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid are to meet the judge at prison later this week. Picture: Reuters
Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid are to meet the judge at prison later this week. Picture: Reuters
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SUSPECTED drug mules Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum are due to face their first proper grilling in front of a judge this week.

A new judge tasked with investigating the pair is expected to quiz them tomorrow or Wednesday in a room at a prison near the women’s jail where they are being held.

Dilo Huaman, the duty judge who remanded them in custody last month after a public court bail hearing, has been replaced by an unnamed colleague.

A new state prosecutor, who believes the British women are lying about being kidnapped and forced to smuggle drugs by gunmen in Ibiza, where they were working over the summer, has also been appointed.

Juan Mendoza Abarca was on holiday when the women, both 20, were arrested at Lima’s Jorge Chavez Airport as they tried to catch a flight to Spain.

He has now replaced interim state prosecutor Juan Rojas.

Dr Abarca said: “They don’t even have one element of proof. Unfortunately, their stories are not believable – their stories are incredible.

“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.”

A prosecution source added yesterday: “I’m confident they will end up assuming their responsibility so they receive the minimum sentence.

“These two are not the only British and European women recruited by these international drugs trafficking gangs. Our experience is that these gangs teach each one of their recruits a story to tell in their defence when they’re caught red-handed.

“Some will say they’re ill, others that they’ve got no job, others that their grannie’s got cancer and others they’ve been threatened.

“Our experience tells us that in the end they assume their responsibility and agree to what we call an early termination of the judicial process whereby they are sentenced without the need for a trial.”

The judicial investigation into Ms Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, and Ms McCollum, from Dungannon, Northern Ireland, is scheduled to last four months.

They will go to trial if they continue to protest their innocence – and face a prison sentence of between eight and 15 years if found guilty of drugs trafficking.

Prosecutors say they will benefit from a sixth off the minimum sentence – and receive a sentence of six years and eight months – if they admit responsibility and spare the courts a trial.

State prosecutors in Peru confirmed last night they had begun to seek international co-operation to try to catch the criminals behind the British women.