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Peru drugs smuggler Michaella McCollum ran jail's beauty salon

Michaella McCollum outside her Dungannon home last weekend, just a day after returning home from Peru. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press
Michaella McCollum outside her Dungannon home last weekend, just a day after returning home from Peru. Picture by Colm Lenaghan, Pacemaker Press

CONVICTED Co Tyrone drugs smuggler Michaella McCollum has said she ran a beauty salon for other inmates while in prison in Peru, in her first interviews since returning to Ireland last week.

The Dungannon woman also revealed she had a bust-up with fellow smuggler Melissa Reid in front of tourists days before they were arrested at Jorge Chavez International Airport, and bribed a security guard 400 soles (£92) in order to get a mobile phone when in jail.

McCollum (23) returned to Dungannon last week after serving less than half her six year sentence, and said she now plans to study a psychology and sociology course.

She told The Mail on Sunday and Sunday Mirror that although her family helped her by sending money, she also ran a beauty salon for prisoners.

She said: "I became quite an entrepreneur. I used the money from my family to open a business.

"I would buy products in and bought a massage table, hair straighteners, rollers and a hairdryer. I was soon making £200 a week."

So successful was the enterprise that McCollum said she was able to employ other inmates to clean her cell.

"It’s so dirty, I mean, even the bathroom you wouldn’t even touch. You’re literally cleaning your own c**p."

However, the Dungannon woman maintained that her time in the notorious Ancon 2 jail was difficult.

She said: "I thought we were going to be eaten alive. They were all gangsters who smoked crack.

"We had no toilet, just an overflowing hole in the floor. There was no toilet paper, no soap, no dignity."

Under the terms of her release earlier this year McCollum was expected to remain in Peru with Irish-American Archbishop Sean Walsh and carry out work with HIV and AIDS sufferers.

The Co Tyrone woman said: "I'm not a bad person. Yes, I made a mistake and I did something wrong but I’m not somebody who deserves to rot in jail for the rest of my life.

"I thought it was totally innocent just experimenting with drugs on holiday and look where it put me."

McCollum, who had been working in Ibiza during the summer of 2013, said she had been offered €5,000 to smuggle cocaine out of Peru.

McCollum said she and Melissa Reid ended up having a blazing row on a bus at the famous Machu Picchu site in front of travellers just days before they were to complete their mission.

Recalling the argument, she said: "Obviously, everyone on that bus knew what we were planning."

"It was completely my fault what I went through – no one put a gun to my head.

McCollum added: "Obviously you get an adrenaline high because you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing ... it was a little bit of an excitement, yeah."

She said she had a string of admirers while in jail, claiming to have received more than 500 love letters including a marriage proposal.

One suitor sent her a "present of eight kittens, all named after serial killers", while a male prisoner told guards he was her husband in an attempt to get a visit with her.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Michaella McCollum was paid for her interviews with two Sunday newspapers.

Neither The Mail on Sunday nor Belfast-based solicitor Kevin Winters could not be reached for comment.

In April this year, shortly after being released from prison, McCollum was interviewed by RTÉ in a programme watched by more than half a million viewers.

The interview received criticism from some quarters, with complaints about a perceived lack of depth to the questioning.

While the broadcaster did not comment at the time, Mr Winters later insisted that his client had not been paid for that interview.

Mr Winters said at the time: "There was no payment made to her to do so. Michaella chose to do this interview with RTÉ because it is Ireland's public service broadcaster."

At the time, Mr Winters also appealed for privacy and ruled out further interactions with the media.