Peru drugs: UK women 'to plead not guilty'

Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid made no comment as they were taken to the court

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One of the lawyers of two UK women arrested in Peru on suspicion of drugs smuggling says he expects them to plead not guilty.

Peter Madden, lawyer for Michaella McCollum, said he understood the pair would be charged with drug trafficking.

Ms McCollum, from Dungannon, and Melissa Reid, from Lenzie near Glasgow, both 20, are accused of trying to smuggle 11kg (24lb) of cocaine.

The pair were stopped while trying to board a flight to Madrid two weeks ago.

They have maintained that they were forced by an armed gang to carry the drug, which was in their luggage.

Peter Madden, lawyer for Michaella McCollum: "They haven't had anything to eat today"

Newspaper reports

Both women say they were forcibly recruited as drug mules by the gang while working in bars in the Spanish island of Ibiza and travelled to Peru under duress.

At the scene

This has been a long, disorientating and undoubtedly upsetting day for Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum.

Early in the morning, while it was still dark, the two women were moved from the police cell in Lima where they had been held for more than two weeks and transferred to the judiciary in the neighbouring province of Callao.

After a short medical examination, they were brought to the state prosecutor's office where journalists and photographers were waiting.

Over the course of the next few hours, while the two women made their official statements to the authorities, the number of cameras waiting outside swelled considerably.

By the time they emerged to be driven to the Justice Building in Callao where they will be charged, it was a media scrum. The handcuffed girls had to push through a throng of journalists to reach their car.

Meanwhile, outside the justice building Ms McCollum's lawyer, Peter Madden, said they planned to plead not guilty. And he berated the conditions they were being kept in, saying they had been given nothing to eat all day.

Police said the cocaine had a street value of £1.5m.

BBC correspondent Will Grant reported that Ms McCollum and Ms Reid were taken from their cells in Lima at 07:00 local time (13:00 BST) on Tuesday and transferred by police escort to the neighbouring province of Callao, which has jurisdiction over their case.

He said the women were given a brief medical exam before being taken to the public prosecutor's office, where they gave full statements.

The women were then moved to Callao's Justice Building, where they will hear the charges against them and enter their pleas.

Mr Madden said he understood the charges would be for drug trafficking, which carries an average sentence of eight to nine years in prison.

However, if they are accused of being members of a criminal organisation, they could face harsher sentences.

Our correspondent said that once pleas had been entered the pair were expected to be placed in a holding cell within the Justice Building, ahead of transfer to a women's prison later this week.

On Monday, Mr Madden - who travelled to Lima with Ms McCollum's brother Keith on Friday - criticised some of the press coverage of the case.

Over the weekend some newspapers had reported on the Ibiza drugs scene and had questioned the women's stories.

Mr Madden said he had shown some reports to his client, who he said "totally denies" the contents.

The BBC's Will Grant: "This could be a lengthy legal process"

Also over the weekend, the head of Ibiza's police investigation into drug trafficking, First Sergeant Alberto Arean Varela, cast doubt on the claims that the women were coerced into trying to smuggle drugs out of Peru, saying they had several opportunities to alert the authorities.

Peru's anti-drug police's lead investigator, Tito Perez, told the BBC his unit had been checking into the women's version of events by travelling to the hotels they had stayed in.

Officers had also gathered video evidence from the city of Cusco where they claimed the drug gang had taken them.

The report is due to form the basis of the pre-trial hearing.

If refused bail, the young women could face up to three years in jail before trial.

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