Friday 28 October 2016

Freed Michaella plans to be an Aids volunteer

Irish drugs mule jailed in Peru is unexpectedly released and will work with church charity

Michaella before a court appearance in Lima
Michaella before a court appearance in Lima
Michaella McCollum (left) and fellow drugs mule Melissa Reid, from Scotland, after their arrest in Lima Airport (AP)

Drugs mule Michaella McCollum has been released from prison in Peru after being granted parole and plans to work as a volunteer with an Aids charity.

A solicitor for the 23-year-old aspiring model from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, said she walked free from the Ancon Dos prison in northern Lima, and the Herald has learned she has already arranged a job and accommodation.

Irish-American Bishop Sean Walsh, who is based in the Peruvian capital, said Michaella will volunteer with his Eastern Catholic Church in the city.

He has also said he will provide a bed for her in his own home.

"She has been granted parole to my very great surprise," he said. "She's going to be granted parole for the remainder of her sentence.


"I visited her in prison several days ago. She is quite relieved and thankful to God that the course of life has gone this way.

"Probably she will remain in Lima. She will be allowed to work and study if she wants to do that.

"She is also going to work as a volunteer for my church and for Fr Cathal Gallagher, who has an Aids charity here.

"Being on parole means she only has to check in with the clerk and the prison system office for special and psychological questioning and to ensure she remains in the country."

Michaella has been granted parole to live in Peru, but will be unable to return to Ireland for the foreseeable future.

She also owes a sum of money to the prison authorities.

"She opted for getting out on parole in Peru," said Bishop Walsh.

"She's blending in better in this culture than the majority of foreign prisoners, so she will fit in comfortably to life in Lima."

The bishop said he was in court on Tuesday when Michaella was granted parole.

"I didn't expect this. This is great news," he said. "I think the judge was wooed by her age.

"Michaella has been an exemplary prisoner. She learned Spanish. She has shown that she is intelligent, innovative and productive.

"I met with her on the day of her court appearance. She looked great and, of course, she was a little nervous until the announcement."

Michaella has adapted to life behind bars. As well as taking Spanish classes, she did a course in hairdressing.

Bishop Walsh said she wants to use these skills in the "outside world".

"She is a young lady with a lot of potential. She learned hairdressing. She wants to help with our church magazine. In prison, she learned fluent Spanish and I'm hoping she can teach English as a second language to my clergy.

"She is obedient and she really loves to learn."

Michaella's solicitor, Kevin Winters, said she was released effectively on parole on Thursday night and was waiting to hear the terms of her release.

"I can confirm Michaella has been released from jail and I'm waiting to hear the outcome of the judicial process," he said.

Michaella and Melissa Reid, from near Glasgow, were jailed in 2013 for six years and eight months after admitting trying to smuggle cocaine worth €1.9m out of Peru.


The pair had been working on Ibiza and had travelled to Lima. As they prepared to return to Spain, they were stopped in Lima airport by security who found a huge amount of drugs hidden in their luggage.

They claimed at the time that Colombian drug lords had kidnapped them at gunpoint and forced them to board a flight with almost 11kg of cocaine concealed in food packets.

They faced the prospect of a maximum 15-year prison term but struck a plea bargain to secure a shorter sentence.

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