An Irish American bishop says the two women accused of being drug mules in Peru were set up.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Archbishop Sean Walsh of the Eastern Rite Catholic church visited Michaella McCollum Connolly, 20, and Melissa Reid, 19, in their police cell where they told him they were flown from Ibiza to Morocco by a criminal gang before being taken to Peru.
Archbishop Walsh, a former Augustinian priest who got married and joined the eastern rite church told the Telegraph he believed the women had been 'set up' and described them as 'weepy and upset' as they await a court appearance.
Archbishop Walsh added: 'They told me that there were a group of Colombians actually took them at gunpoint and threatened them. They held them in Ibiza for a while and they took them to Morocco. Now I don’t know what happened and I don’t know how they got over to Peru, there was no direct flight from Morocco. They had to go through Spain probably, but if they threatened them in some way that seems to me a credible defence.
'If they have been coerced or threatened as I think they are going to argue, then the fact that they physically had it in their possession may not mean that they were intentionally or willingly doing it if they were forced with threats on their life.'
The Archbishop added: 'My personal feeling with these girls? They really and truly have been set up.'
The two friends could appear in court as early as today, but may have to wait up to 36 months before they eventually stand trial because of Peru’s famously slow legal system. They will reportedly be sent to the tough Santa Monica de Chorrillos prison for the majority of their remand period.
At the family home in Dungannon, McCollum Connolly's mother Nora told the press: 'The situation is terrible for everyone. At the moment we don't know anything. We don't know what is happening at all.'
Peter Madden, McCollum Connolly's family attorney, said: '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.'
McCollum Connolly was reportedly traveling on an Irish passport and is being aided by diplomats from the Irish embassy in Mexico City.
Footage of the two women in police station
Happy Earth Day! Ireland sure looks gorgeous from outer space