As girls face 25 years in jail 'for smuggling £1.5million of cocaine', are Ibiza gangs targeting Britons as drug mules?

  • Michaella McCollum Connolly, of Belfast, arrested with Briton Melissa Reid
  • Police in Peru say they found more than 11 kilos of cocaine in their luggage
  • Ms McCollum Connolly was at centre of Facebook and social media appeal
  • She sparked campaign after disappearing from holiday island Ibiza
  • Family said they had not heard anything from her in 12 days

As far as their parents knew, Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum Connolly were spending the summer working in bars and clubs around the Mediterranean.
But last night they were coming to terms with the devastating news that their daughters had been arrested on the other side of the world in Peru on suspicion of smuggling £1.5million worth of cocaine.
It is feared that the fun-loving pair, who could face up to 25 years in jail if convicted, may have been working for gangsters who increasingly target vulnerable young Britons as drug ‘mules’.

Held: British girls Melissa Reid, left, and Michaella McCollum Connolly, right, have been arrested in Peru on suspicion of trying to smuggle £1 million worth of cocaine out of the country

Police in Lima, the Peruvian capital, said Miss Reid, 19, and Miss McCollum Connolly, 20, were arrested after officers found more than 25lb of the Class A drug in their suitcases as they checked in for a 6,000-mile flight back to Spain.
Miss Reid had left her job as a sales assistant at Next and travelled to Ibiza in June.

Her mother Debra, 53, said she had been stunned to discover her daughter was no longer there.
She said: ‘As far as we knew, Melissa was in Ibiza. That is where she has been. She met the other girl out in Ibiza. I don’t know anything else about her.’

Speaking from the family’s £400,000 detached home in Lenzie, near Glasgow, her 53-year-old father William added: ‘We are just trying to come to terms with it and we don’t really know anything.’

Shock: The parents of Melissa Reid have yet to come to term's with their daughter's arrest saying they had no idea she had even left the island of Ibiza

Unsure future: Melissa and Michaella are currently held in prison in Lima, Peru

The family were unsure what to do. ‘If it was in Spain, it would be easier to jump on a plane out there to be close to her, but Peru is a lot further away,’ he said.
Shocked: Melissa Reid's parents William and Debra said they are struggling to come to terms with the news. They thought their daughter was still in Ibiza

The family of photography student Miss McCollum Connolly had launched a missing-person appeal after she failed to answer her phone or update her Facebook page for almost a fortnight.
They say they did not know the aspiring model from Belfast had left the popular Ibizan party town of San Antonio, where she had been working occasionally as a nightclub hostess since June.
Her mother Nora said: ‘We have been speaking to Michaella. It’s a very difficult time. We hadn’t heard from her in 12 days, and now this.’
The pair had posted dozens of photographs on their Facebook pages showing them enjoying the nightlife in Ibiza.
It is feared they may have been targeted by one of the drug gangs operating there that offer thousands of pounds to ‘mules’ who carry cocaine from South America to Europe in their suitcases.
A total of 248 suspected mules were arrested at Lima’s airport last year and nearly 1,600kg of drugs, mainly cocaine, confiscated.
The majority of those arrested are Spanish, with most mules heading for Spain, but there is a growing trend for vulnerable Britons to be targeted as mules.
It is understood the British women took an internal flight in Peru to Cuzco, where they were allegedly given the cocaine before flying back to Lima.

Michaella McCollum Connolly (pictured), 20, has been arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking along with Briton Melissa Reid, 19
Police said the pair, who flew to the country on August 1, were found with 11kg of cocaine hidden in food packets in their luggage at Jorge Chávez International Airport.

Serious: If the girls are convicted, they could be moved to Santa Monica jail- a prison with filthy conditions where HIV and tuberculosis are rife

They had been trying to check in for an Air Europa flight to Madrid on Tuesday, with Palma, Majorca, as their final destination.
A spokesman said: ‘Police searched the women’s luggage. They found 18 packets of food products with cocaine, which weighed 5.78 kilos, in Melissa Reid’s suitcase.
‘Sixteen packets with cocaine weighing 5.810 kilos were found in Michaella McCollum’s suitcases.’
Yesterday, Ireland’s recently retired consul-general in Lima, Michael Russell, said the two women could face up to 25 years behind bars if convicted.
He described conditions in Peruvian jails as horrible, adding: ‘It’s all a matter of money, quite frankly.

You have to buy your space, you have to buy your food. If you don’t have money, you suffer quite a lot.’
The pair are being held in a local women’s prison, but if convicted they are likely to be sent to a notorious women’s jail called Santa Monica in Chorrillos.
The prison was built for just 250 women but now houses more than 1,000 in filthy conditions in which HIV and tuberculosis are rife.
Cuzco, a World Heritage Site where tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, is a favourite cocaine pick-up point for drug mules, known locally as burriers.
Anti-drugs police chief Anderson Reyes Ugarte said: ‘Before, gangs would target poor people, but recently the burriers we’re arresting come from Europe, mainly from Spain.
‘I suppose this situation is the result of the economic crisis and unemployment.’

The pair were arrested in Lima (pictured) on Tuesday while trying to board a flight to Madrid

Ms McCollum Connolly was at the centre of a Facebook and online social media appeal after she went missing from Ibiza (file picture)

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