McCollum set to leave Peru for NI jail

McCollum set to leave Peru for NI jail

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."

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