Police in Peru are investigating claims that the two young women charged with drug smuggling were set up.

The Daily Star reports that investigators were told there may have been other drug mules on the plane which the two women tried to board from Lima airport.

Michaela McCollum Connolly from Dungannon, Northern Ireland and Melissa Reid from Glasgow, both 20, were arrested in Lima trying to board a flight to Madrid with 11 kilos of cocaine in food packages in their luggage.

The girls told police that they were forced to carry the drugs by an armed gang after they were kidnapped on the Spanish island of Ibiza.

A source close to the investigation told the Daily Star Sunday: “There has been intelligence collected from various criminal gangs to suggest the British girls were not the only ones sent from Spain to Peru as drug mules."

“It has also been suggested they were turned in to Customs officials in a deliberate diversionary move designed to create a certain level of attention so that other mules could slip through undetected. An inquiry is under way.”

The source added: “It would not be the first time this tactic has been used by drug cartels.

“There have been several occasions in the past when up to three pairs of mules have been placed on the same plane, all tasked with picking up consignments of cash or cocaine in South America and flying it back to Europe.

“The individual groups are unaware of their fellow mules and one of the groups will be set up.

“A major bust is then carried out which takes up Customs’ resources.

“While that is going on, the other traffickers walk through without even being stopped. This has happened for years, not so much with British girls but Spanish, French and African girls.

“The cocaine lost amounts to millions of pounds.

“But the gangs see that as something they are prepared to sacrifice for the profits gained from the drugs that actually get through. So it could well be that these two British girls were set up.”

The women are currently being held in Lima’s notorious Virgen de Fatima jail.

They face a 15-year jail term if found guilty of drug smuggling.