1. ITV Report

Women held in Peru 'claim they were threatened at gunpoint'

Michaella McCollum Connolly (left) and Melissa Reid. Photo: Police handout

The British and Irish women arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking in Peru have said they were forced to act at gunpoint by Colombian gangsters, it was claimed.

Sean Walsh, an Irish-American archbishop with the Eastern Catholic Church, visited the pair in Lima and claimed Melissa Reid, 19, from Scotland, and Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, had no choice but to follow orders.

They told me that there were a group of Colombians that actually took them at gunpoint and threatened them.

– Archbishop Sean Walsh

He claimed the women were held for a while by the gang before being taken to Morocco and back again to Peru.

I don't know how that happened, and I don't know how they got over to Peru.

There's no direct flight from Morocco, they go through Spain probably, but if they threatened them in some way that to me seems like a credible defence.

– Archbishop Sean Walsh

The two women, who are accused of smuggling an estimated £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of South America, are due to appear in court tomorrow.

Peter Madden, the solicitor to the family of MsMcCollum Connolly, released a statement tonight saying he was confident the 20-year-old would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Michaella McCollum Connolly, was the subject of an online campaign after she was reported missing. Credit: Facebook

Michaella has been questioned by the police and has denied involvement in any criminal offence. She will be appearing before an examining judge shortly.

Michaella's family are obviously shocked and distressed by the recent events but are confident that Michaella will be exonerated. The family fully support her and they are making arrangements to travel to Peru. They have contacted support groups in Lima to ensure that her current needs are met.

I am arranging legal representation for her in Lima.

I spoke to Michaella last night and she emphasised that she denied that she was guilty of any offence. She is well. She is not on hunger strike. She is finding it difficult to cope with the current situation, so far from home, but is optimistic.

The family want privacy at this time and hopefully this will be respected by the press and media.

– Peter Madden, solicitor to the family of Michaella McCollum Connolly

Earlier, a video emerged of the pair moments after they were arrested in Peru on suspicion of drug trafficking.

Ms Reid and Ms McCollum Connolly were arrested in Lima a week ago while trying to board a flight to Madrid.

Peruvian police claim the pair were found with 24lb of cocaine hidden in food in their luggage.

In the video, Ms Reid says "I was forced to take these bags in my luggage," and added that "she did not know" her bag contained drugs.

Both Ms Reid and Ms McCollum Connolly left their home for separate holidays in Ibiza earlier this summer.

Ms McCollum Connolly was at the centre of an online social media appeal last week after her family said she had not contacted them for 12 days.The first they heard was when she turned up in Peruvian police custody.

The mother of Ms Reid, who flew to Ibiza in June, told reporters she believed her daughter was on the party island and had no idea she had travelled to South America.

Melissa Reid, 19, said she was "forced to take the luggage". Credit: Facebook

Lead investigator Major Manuel Siclla told the Scottish Sun the women were worried about "what the future holds for them".

They are OK, but are obviously worried about their families and what the future holds for them.

Like anyone else involved drug smuggling, they will be tried and face long prison sentences if convicted.

We take this problem very seriously here in Peru and courts are very strict about the enforcement of the law.

– Lead investigator Major Manuel Siclla

A guard in Lima told the Daily Mirror that they had refused to eat or drink, and they were "terrified and emotional".

Police in Peru say the cocaine was hidden inside food packets. Credit: Police Handout

It is understood the pair are being held separately in maximum-security holding cells.

The Foreign Office in London confirmed it is helping a British national and the Irish Embassy in Mexico City is also helping Ms McCollum Connolly and her family.

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