Northern Ireland

Michaella McCollum solicitor returns from visiting her in Peru

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Media captionSolicitor Peter Madden said the women could serve two years and then be released

The solicitor for one of the two UK women arrested in Peru over alleged drugs smuggling said his client is frightened and unsure of her future.

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

Ms McCollum's solicitor, Peter Madden, said the pair are finding it hard.

"Everybody speaks Spanish, they find it difficult to follow instructions and to read the signs in the prison".

The pair were refused bail last week and could face up to three years in jail before trial.

Mr Madden saw the two women on Saturday after they had been moved from police custody to a prison.

"They're being held in a classification area of the prison and the idea is to assess where is the best place within the prison for them to be kept permanently.

"So I don't know what the conditions are like yet and they would have to be looked at," he said.

"I do know that the food is very poor, and the prison authorities concede that, Michaella has to pay for all her own food and if she wants to get better food she has to pay more for it.

"You have to pay for everything in the prison system in Peru."

Mr Madden said that the authorities accepted conditions could be improved.

"They are trying to tackle things like HIV, tuberculoisis and overcrowding within the prison.

"But I think they have been well treated all along by the police and the Peruvian authorities and it's simply that the conditions are poor."

Ms McCollum and Ms Reid have maintained from the start that they were forced by an armed gang to carry the cocaine they were arrested with in their luggage at Lima Airport.

They both 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.

Remission

Mr Madden said that at some stage there will have to be a decision made as to whether they should plead guilty or not guilty.

"Unlike here (in the UK) a guilty plea is called taking responsibility for your crime.

"Both girls have set out a full account of what happened to them.

"They were questioned separately and they both say they haven't committed a crime and in fact in the Peruvian system if someone is forced to commit a crime, it isn't a crime, and that's what they have said, and they have been consistent about that."

Mr Madden said that in Peru anybody that is arrested and found with drugs on them go straight into prison.

"There is no bail and if they want to protest their innocence in a trial that can take up to two years or more.

"Whereas if they accept their responsibility, as it is put in Peru, it could be over in six months.

"They will probably need to make that decision in the next few weeks.

Mr Madden said due to the complexity of the case and the investigation it could take a bit longer.

"At the moment, though, the law is changing and they could serve two years and be released," he said.

"It's because any foreigner with a sentence of less than seven years will get two-thirds remission, then they get removed from the country after serving one third."

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