Byline: Catherine Fegan and Jennifer Bray
THE solicitor representing the Irish model accused of cocaine smuggling in Peru has asked the Irish public to donate cash to help her.
The appeal has come from high-profile lawyer Peter Madden, who has advised a number of senior republicans including IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands and the Colombia Three.
He had been in partnership with murdered solicitor Pat Finucane.
Before Mr Madden boarded a flight from Belfast to Lima last night, to act on behalf of Michaella McCollum Connolly, he appealed for donations for her legal costs, which he said will be 'very expensive'.
The other girl at the centre of the [euro]1.7million drugs find has been joined in Peru by her parents, but relatives of Miss McCollum Connolly said her family can't afford to fly out to see her in the maximum security police station where both girls are being held.
Melissa Reid from Scotland was pictured sobbing as she embraced her father William Reid and told him: 'They made me do it.' Miss McCollum Connolly, 20, from Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, is due to give an official statement to police today if an official translator is made available for the interview. Her solicitor revealed last night that she intends to plead not guilty if charged.
He said: 'She is saying that she has done nothing wrong, that she is innocent and that as far as any offences are concerned, if she is charged she will be denying it.' Mr Madden, who is due to arrive in Peruvian capital Lima this morning, said last night that his client's legal costs are already mounting.
'It is very expensive,' he said outside Belfast City Airport. 'The family are funding this at the moment. It is important that the family are supported in that way because it will be very, very difficult to fund any process that will go on for a long time and to fund family members going out there on a regular basis if she is in custody for any length of time.
'It is important that people, especially in Dungannon, rally round in relation to that.' Archbishop of the Pentecostal Eastern Catholic Church in Lima, Sean Walsh, told the Irish Daily Mail there is a 'small community of Irish people' currently banding together in Lima to provide the girls with 'necessities' but also backed up pleas to assist Miss McCollum Connolly.
Mr Madden said his client is doing well in police custody but it was a difficult position for a 'young girl to be in'.
Photography student Miss McCollum Connolly and aspiring nurse Miss Reid claim they were victims of a violent gang who coerced them into carrying the drugs and have said that they were kidnapped and forced at gunpoint to transport them.
Mr Madden said that he spoke briefly to Ms McCollum Connolly by telephone and that she has denied any wrongdoing.
He said his first priority when he reaches Lima is to find a legal team to represent his client.
'I will be engaging a lawyer first of all to establish what the process is and after that I would expect to engage a legal team to represent Michaella at whatever process is happening,' he added.
'I understand there is a questioning procedure at the moment and she needs advice in relation to that. My first priority after seeing Michaella and advising her is to get a lawyer on board.' He confirmed Ms McCollum Connolly has not been charged yet. 'Well, if she isn't charged at the moment there is a possibility that she could be released without charge,' he added.
Miss McCollum Connolly and Miss Reid, who turns 20 today, have claimed they were given the cocaine outside their hotel, the Hotel Colonial San Agustin in Lima, the day before they were due to fly back to Spain. …