Peru drug suspect Michaella McCollum faces sentence 'choice' - lawyer

Wednesday 28 August 2013 22.11
Michaella McCollum is 'in good spirits but frightened' according to her lawyer
Michaella McCollum is 'in good spirits but frightened' according to her lawyer

The lawyer representing an Irishwoman accused of drug smuggling in Peru has said she has a choice of spending around the same time in prison awaiting trial as she would if she pleaded guilty.

Michaella McCollum, from Co Tyrone, and Melissa Reid, from Scotland, were charged earlier this month with trying to smuggle drugs through Lima international airport.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms McCollum's solicitor Peter Madden said she faces the choices of spending two years in prison awaiting trial or pleading guilty and serving a shorter sentence of also around two years.

Mr Madden said there was no bail in the Peruvian criminal justice system and lengthy delays in cases going to trial.

This means that if Ms McCollum continues to plead innocence then she may spend around the same time in prison awaiting trial as she would if she pleaded guilty.

Mr Madden said the women were both being held together in a "classification area" of the prison while they are being assessed to determine in which area of the jail they should be housed more permanently.

Poor conditions in Peruvian prison

He said that prisons in Peru were overcrowded and diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV were rife.

Mr Madden said that Ms McCollum, whom he last saw on Saturday, was "in good spirits but frightened".

The Belfast-based lawyer said that the food in the Peruvian prison was very poor.

Inmates were required to pay for their food, he said.

He said that both women were "light-hearted" at the start of their detention in the belief that they would not be held for long.

Both have given lengthy accounts setting out their claims that they were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and forced to traffic the drugs under duress, Mr Madden said.

If Ms McCollum leaded guilty then the time she has already spent in detention would be taken into account in any likely two-year jail term, he said.

She has been given the options and she does not have to make a decision for some time, but at some stage a decision has to be taken, Mr Madden said.

He said the woman's family were "distraught" over the situation.

They have set up a bank account and have appealed for assistance to fund travel and Ms McCollum's stay in prison.