McCollum set to leave Peru for NI jail

Published Wednesday, 06 August 2014
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A Co Tyrone woman serving a prison sentence in Peru for drug smuggling is being transferred to a jail in Northern Ireland.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, 21, from Dungannon, and 20-year-old Melissa Reid from Scotland, were arrested attempting to board a flight to Spain last August, accused of having 11kg of illegal drugs - worth £1.5m - in their luggage.

The pair had denied the allegations, claiming they were forced at gunpoint to make the journey from the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza, where they had been working in bars, after being befriended by a man from London.

In December, following a plea bargain, they were both sentenced to six years and eight months in jail for attempting to smuggle the drugs out of the South American country.

They had previously been held at Lima's Virgen de Fatima prison, but McCollum was then moved to the notorious Ancon 2 mixed prison, two-and-a-half hours outside the city.

McCollum's Belfast-based lawyer Kevin Winters has received confirmation from the Irish government's Department of Foreign Affairs that the prison transfer request has been accepted by the Peruvian authorities.

He said the family had worked with various agencies to secure her transfer.

He said: "Last week we received confirmation from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs that the Peruvian authorities had accepted Michaella's prison transfer request and in turn passed this on to the UK National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

"It is our understanding that NOMS is due to liaise with the various prison authorities in order to facilitate the next stage of the transfer process."

The solicitor added that a system was in place to ensure the transfer would take place as efficiently as possible, however, he could not say how long it would take for the woman to be moved.

A Prison Service spokesperson added: "We don't normally comment on individual cases. All transfer requests are however dealt with as expeditiously as possible."

Patrick Corrigan, from Amnesty International Northern Ireland, said the conditions in Peruvian jails meant it is "understandable" that prisoners from the UK and Ireland want to return home to complete their sentences.

"Peru's prisons are full to overflowing, with almost 50,000 prisoners for fewer than 30,000 prison places," he said.

"The Virgen de Fatima and Ancon jails, where Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly have been serving their jail terms, suffer from the same problems as the rest of Peru's prison system, which has a reputation for being deeply corrupt, with prisoners even forced to pay for food and clean water.

"Significant investment is required to bring the country's jails up to internationally accepted standards for prison conditions such as would be expected in the UK."

The Co Tyrone woman's eventual return to Northern Ireland could take months as the logistics of the transfer are complicated.

Prisoners must be accompanied throughout their journey and airlines and airports must be advised, with security arrangements put in place at departure, transit and final stops.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) said it has approved a repatriation application it received from Lima earlier this year.

Prison chiefs are now waiting for the Peruvian authorities to agree on the terms of Melissa Reid's transfer before it can take place.

An SPS spokeswoman said: "We have provisionally given consent to the Peruvian authorities for the application."

© UTV News
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133 Comments
Observer in Online wrote (72 days ago):
John in Belfast - maybe you have been in a cave for the last 16 years N. Ireland has had devolved powers, the same as Scotland and Wales. Have you never heard of the Good Friday Agreement, or Stormont either? LOL The idiots who comment here are priceless!
An Irish Passboard Holder in The Maiden City wrote (72 days ago):
John in Belfast. At least try to spell correctly, I think "province" was the word you were looking for. Secondly Northern Ireland is not a Province of Ireland, Ulster is the name of the Province, which is made up of the 6 counties of the country of Northern Ireland plus Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan. If you don't agree or have chosen to selectively ignore the history of the Partition of Ireland then that is your choice. This is also why Northern Ireland competed recently as a separate country in The Commonwealth Games. Sadly while this debate continues the Northern Ireland I love will continue it's downward trend towards becoming a third world country and believe me the majority of public opinion in the rest of Ireland is that they wouldn't take us as a gift. If you don't believe this view, go and visit Romania and other such countries that I visit and do business in on a monthly basis. Believe me, our intolerance to one another is quickly dragging us into a poverty riven state that will be difficult to reverse. As a property owner in both Northern Ireland and in Donegal I see things from both sides but sometimes I despair. :-(
John in Belfast. wrote (77 days ago):
To Jack in Belfast. Follow your own advice and don't comment on what you don't understand.You are correct when you say that N. Ireland is a Provence. A Provence of Ireland. Scotland and Wales, who have devolved powers are not. They are Countries in their own right. N. Ireland is not a Country. Never can be.
Karen in Australia wrote (78 days ago):
She should be staying in Peru. She knew what would happen if she got caught so suffer the consequences. She would have been celebrating with the money made from getting them through and not batted an eyelid. Yes, parents want their kids home but she wasn't sentenced in the wrong so why should your taxes be wasted on her. Shame the Peru jail is overcrowded, maybe doing a stint in there would teach her for again. No sympathy.....
John in crumlin wrote (78 days ago):
she broke the laws of that land and so she should be punished accordingly. I say keep her their
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