The attorney for the Irish woman being held in Peru on drug smuggling charges has said she and her co-accused could be free in two years if they plead guilty.

Peter Madden, representing Monaghan-born Michaella McCollum Connolly , 20, said she and Melissa Reid, also 20, from Glasgow will need to decide soon, to plead guilty or protest their innocence.

He said: "They are confident that what they told the authorities will be proved. They are innocent until proven guilty, but they have to try to prove that what they said happened did happen."

On August 6th the pair were stopped in Lima airport with 11kg of cocaine hidden in food packets in their luggage while trying to board a flight to Spain. They both claim to have been kidnapped and forced into carrying the drugs by gangsters.

He said the girls were being well treated, adding that conditions in jail were harsh. He noted there were lengthy delays in cases going to trial.

Madden said due to new drug laws, soon to take effect in Peru, they could be released after two years if they accepted responsibility for their crime.

The Belfast based attorney added: "At some stage there will have to be a decision made by Michaella and Melissa as to whether or not, in our terms, they plead guilty, or plead not guilty and go to trial."

He told BBC Radio Ulster, "Anybody who is found in possession of drugs goes straight to prison. If they want to protest their innocence, it may take up to or over two years.

"If they accept their responsibility, as it is put, it could be over in six months.

"The law is changing, so they could actually serve just over two years and be released."