Melissa Reid (L) and Michaella McCollum are escorted by police after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao (Reuters)
Melissa Reid (L) and Michaella McCollum are escorted by police after leaving the public prosecutor's office at Callao (Reuters)

The two British women arrested on suspicion of attempting to smuggle £1.5m of cocaine out of Peru have been formally charged.

Melissa Reid, 20, from Lenzie, near Glasgow, and 20-year-old Michaella McCollum from Dungannon, Northern Ireland, were arrested in the Peruvian capital of Lima after police found more than 11kgs (24.2lbs) of cocaine in their luggage.

The women appeared before the District Prosecutor to hear the charges against them before being moved to a detention centre in Lima.

If convicted, the pair could face a maximum of 15 years in prison. McCollum's lawyer Peter Madden said both women would plead not guilty.

The women could remain in custody for a further three years before their trial comes to court.

The pair were arrested on 6 August as they attempted to board a flight to Madrid. Both women claimed that Colombian drug traffickers had threatened to kill them if they did not carry the bags onboard, and insisted they did not know the luggage contained the food packages filled with cocaine.

Commenting on the woman's condition in custody, Madden told Sky News: "They're both in a holding cell, there are two other women there, but they haven't gotten anything to eat today.

"They haven't been offered any food and to me that is unacceptable. The conditions inside the holding cells are pretty grim.

"They are expected to lie almost on the floor, there is a sort of sponge-type bed which is just not acceptable, there are no blankets, it's not clean, and the most important thing is that they haven't actually been offered any food today, and it didn't look as if they were going to be."

Before the pair were charged, police said they were questioning their version of events after photos emerged showing them posing on a balcony and beach with beer in Lima days before their arrest.

Reid and McCollum said they were forced to take pictures of themselves together to convince border control officers and hotel staff that they were ordinary friends travelling together.

The two women had told police that they had not met each other until they were kidnapped by a South American drug cartel and separately taken to a safehouse in Madrid before being flown to Peru.

However, a police source said the photos could not have been taken in Peru as it would have been too cold: "It was only when police looked at the pictures on their camera they began to question where they had been taken," a source told the Daily Mirror.

"We are in the middle of our winter here in Lima and temperatures are running quite cold. It appears odd they are both in very thin beachwear."

Peruvian detectives are also examining CCTV, which appears to show the women walking around Lima freely - contradictory to their claims they were being held at gunpoint.