UK & World News
Peru Drugs Pair Plead Guilty To Trafficking
Two women accused of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine out of Peru have pleaded guilty.
Melissa Reid and Michaella McCollum, both 20, were stopped with 11kg (24lb) of cocaine hidden in food packets in their luggage while trying to board a flight to Spain on August 6.
Reid, from Glasgow, and McCollum, from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, originally claimed they were forced to carry the drugs by an armed gang which threatened them and their family members.
Their U-turn means they will not have to stand trial on drug trafficking charges.
Instead, it is likely they will be sentenced to six years and eight months in jail at a hearing which could take place as early as next week.
The two women admitted their guilt at a private hearing in a makeshift courtroom at a men's jail in Lima.
They were heard separately for half an hour each from 11am local time - 5pm in the UK - and asked their names and ages before being given the opportunity to speak.
The women's lawyer, Meyer Fishman, declined to comment, but a Callao court spokesman in charge of the investigation confirmed the guilty pleas.
"Both women have pleaded guilty to drugs trafficking," said the spokesman.
"It means they automatically benefit from a sixth off the minimum jail sentence of eight years and will be sentenced to six years and eight months in prison.
"Sentencing has not taken place yet and a new hearing where the women will be sentenced has now got to be arranged.
"But it's likely that will take place in around a week's time."
Reid and McCollum, who had both been working in Ibiza, were facing up to 15 years in prison if they had been found guilty in a trial.
Reid's parents insisted last week they still believed their daughter had been forced to carry the drugs, but a guilty plea was the best course of action to get her back to the UK.
Prosecutors previously indicated that the women could return home to serve their sentences if they pleaded guilty.
Reid was the first to consider changing her plea, maintaining she carried the drugs under duress and telling the Daily Mail: "Pleading guilty is going to enable me to get back to my family in Scotland sooner rather than later.
"I do not want to be in jail until 35 - I can't get back those years."
McCollum confirmed at the weekend that she too had changed her mind about continuing to protest her innocence.
"I understand that the judicial process will be simpler if we both plead guilty," said the 20-year-old.
"We are hoping we will not have to wait too long before we are sentenced and pleading guilty will speed things up."
The pair are currently being held at the notorious Virgen de Fatima prison in the Peruvian capital Lima.
Peruvian police and prosecutors said from the start they did not believe the women had been forced to smuggle the drugs.
Chief prosecutor Juan Mendoza Abarca claimed their stories were "incredible" and that they had been coached in what to say.
He added: "They staged this whole thing from the beginning because they knew it was possible they would get caught and if they did get caught they had the excuses really well planned.
"It's very obvious they were trained in what to say if they were caught. They were prepared in every sense."
A total of 248 "drug mules" were arrested at Lima's Jorge Chavez international airport in 2012, with nearly 1,600kg of illegal drugs confiscated.
The UN says Peru has overtaken Colombia as the world's largest grower of coca, the raw material of cocaine.