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Second chance for Michaella McCollum

While there will always be considerable concern when a young Irish woman, barely out of her teens, finds herself facing a long jail sentence in South America, all the indications are that Michaella McCollum has ultimately been treated with both fairness and compassion by the Peruvian authorities.

McCollum, from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, was aged 20 in 2013 when she and a friend were caught attempting to smuggle 24 lbs of cocaine worth an estimated £1.5m on a flight from Spain to Lima.

They initially claimed that they had been threatened at gunpoint by gangsters on the holiday island of Ibiza and compelled against their will to fly to Peru with the massive consignment concealed in their luggage.

McCollum and her associate, Melissa Reid from Glasgow, could have been given a 15-year term but eventually admitted their guilt and were each given sentences of six years and eight months in what are known to be very harsh and cramped prison conditions.

It emerged last week that McCollum had been released on parole after serving two year and three months, although Reid remains in custody while applying for a transfer to a Scottish jail.

A court was told that McCollum will work with Catholic missionaries in Peru, helping people suffering from HIV and Aids, and is scheduled to remain there until the date when she was officially due to complete her sentence.

In an RTE interview last night, she said she had decided to smuggle the drugs in a `moment of madness,’ and accepted that her actions could have had devastating consequences for many people.

McCollum expressed remorse for her behaviour, which she said could have left `blood on her hands’, and stressed that she now wanted to demonstrate that she was a good person.

There can be no doubt that she was both immature and vulnerable when she came under the influence of more sinister figures in Spain, but it must also be accepted that she willingly became involved in a major criminal enterprise of international dimensions.

McCollum has now been given the chance to turn her life around and at the same time make a contribution towards a charitable initiative which assists suffering individuals in a hugely underprivileged region.

She has good reason to be grateful for the leniency displayed by the judge hearing her case and it must be hoped that she takes full advantage of the opportunity she has been handed after making a selfish and foolish decision in pursuit of financial gain.

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