THE two British women arrested on suspicion of trying to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million out of Peru were formally charged today and could face up to 15 years in prison.
Twenty-year-olds Melissa Reid, from Glasgow, and Michaella McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, have spent the last two weeks in custody over the drug trafficking allegations, but are expected to be transferred to prison to await their trial.
They were pictured yesterday in handcuffs being escorted by officers from the National Police anti-drug headquarters for medical examinations.
Peruvian police said they found around 24lb of cocaine hidden inside food packages as the women attempted to board a flight from Lima to Madrid.
The women, who both deny the allegations and say they were forced to carry the bags by armed men, are expected to enter not guilty pleas.
If refused bail, the women face up to three years in jail before a trial.
But further questions about the two women’s version of events were raised after photographs emerged which allegedly show them posing on a balcony and on a beach with glasses of beer days before they were arrested at Lima airport.
Reports said the pair claimed they were told to take photos of themselves at tourist spots to make it look like they were friends travelling together.
Ms Reid’s father William Reid, who has flown to Peru to be with his daughter, agreed the photos were ambiguous, but said: “I want to know who took that picture of them on their balcony. Was it taken by a third person or by a minder?
“I believe the trip to the beach was part of a set-up –that they asked them to smile to build up a portrayal of them as happy holidaymakers.”
Ms McCollum’s lawyer, Peter Madden, denied media reports about his client alleging involvement with drugs.
He said: “Michaella McCollum did not owe any money to any drugs dealer, she was not and is not involved in the drugs trade, she has no criminal record, she has never been in trouble with the police in her life.
“She was not seen on video carrying drugs, as was alleged in one newspaper, she was carrying a handbag, it was her handbag, it was pretty obvious it wasn’t drugs, but that was the report.
“She was not out shopping in Lima and spending a lot of money, that didn’t happen.”
Mr Madden said that the women had been kept in harsh conditions but had been treated well.
“They are fairly tough conditions, there’s not an awful lot to eat there, but she’s been treated fairly well by the police and by the people in the police centre,” he said.