British Girls Considered Flight Risk, Held in Chorrillos Prison on Drug Trafficking Charges

The fortunes of Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum took a turn for the worse this week, when the two young women —detained two weeks ago at Jorge Chavez airport with 11.5 kilos of cocaine— were charged with drug trafficking and are to be held in the Virgen de las Mercedes prison until their trial.

Judge Dilo Huaman of the Callao Superior Court ruled that, based on the evidence, the women posed a significant flight risk and ordered their detainment until their trial. This procedure is usual, and there is no bail for drug trafficking cases.

It could be three years before the women face trial. The prosecution will be calling for sentences of between eight to 15 years.

Reid and McCollum, from Scotland and Northern Ireland, were detained at the Lima airport when police found the cocaine in their suitcases — concealed in wrappings of commercial brands of oatmeal, quinoa and similar foods.  The street value of the drugs is over $2 million.

The 20-year-olds claim that while working at clubs in San Antonio, Ibiza, they were held by drug smugglers and forced to travel to Peru to take the drugs back to Spain.  They said the smugglers threatened their lives and their families.  Both families had reported the young women as missing in Spain.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Huaman questioned why the pair did not inform police of their plight while they were in Lima, to which Reid and McCollum replied that those who allegedly forced them into the act told them they were being constantly watched.  The state attorney said their story was “not credible.”

Michaella McCollum’s lawyer, Peter Madden, is in Lima making arrangements for her defense.  At the same time, Reid’s father and brother are also in Lima and celebrated her twentieth birthday at the police station.  Madden said that their detainment conditions are “pretty grim.”

Last year, airport police arrested more than 248 foreign travelers at Lima’s airport and confiscated over 1,500 kilos of cocaine. Most of the travelers were en route to North America or Europe, and many were of Spanish nationality —there are currently more than 300 Spanish men and women serving sentences in Lima prisons.

Also last year, three British nationals, including a 37-year-old nephew of English singer Phil Collins, were arrested at the yacht club in La Punta, Callao, when police found 40 kilos of cocaine on board their sailboat, the Audaciter. The drugs were hidden in fire extinguishers and gas cannisters.  They escaped when they were released on bail pending trial, but were recaptured in May this year when they were planning to leave the country.

British embassies issue general travel warnings under a Know Before You Go program, including videos of British prisoners serving sentences for drug smuggling, and similar videos of U.S. prisoners are issued for warning purposes.

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