Thanks to Denis Kilcommons for filling in for a couple of Wednesdays while I was back in the homeland.
While in Northern Ireland I saw first-hand how the case of Michaella McCollum Connolly from the County Tyrone town of Dungannon has unfolded.
For the first few days that I was back in Ulster her face was all over the local papers and news bulletins – as a missing person.
The 20-year-old had disappeared from Ibiza where she had been working as a nightclub hostess and her worried family were trying to track her down.
Being a pessimist, I assumed in those first few days that the story would shortly come to a tragic conclusion.
But a few days in, she turned up, in a most unexpected place.
Along with another 20-year-old, Melissa Reid from Glasgow, she had been arrested in Peru.
The pair were found with £1.5m of cocaine in their luggage as they attempted to board a flight to Spain.
They are currently in a Peruvian jail awaiting trial for drug smuggling. According to reports, the women claim they were forced at gunpoint to take the cocaine in their luggage.
Their guilt or innocence will be decided by a court, not by me.
But regardless of the truth of what actually happened, there have been aspects of the reporting of this case which I’ve found very disturbing.
The first thing which has troubled me is the way that nearly all Irish and British news outlets have referred to the two accused as “the girls”.
In point of fact, at 20 years of age, they are no longer girls, they are young women. To constantly refer to them as if they were children suggests a strong bias in favour of the accused.
If they are constantly infantilised in this way it is easier to believe that they are guilty of nothing more sinister than childish naivety.
The second thing that disturbs me about the reporting of this case is the fact that the two women are frequently referred to as “Michaella” and “Melissa”.
Friendly, first-name terms for these poor “girls”, trapped in a prison so far from home.
Many news outlets, the Examiner included, routinely refer to anyone who has been charged with an offence by their surname only. The courtesy of the courtesy titles “Mr” “Mrs” or “Ms” is only restored if the person’s name is cleared.
Strictly speaking, the two women should be called by their surnames only until such time as the charges against them are dropped or they are found not guilty. But despite this, you rarely see the pair referred to in print as “McCollum Connolly” and “Reid”.
But the most worrying aspect of the reporting of this case is the focus on the conditions in the prison in which the two women are being held.
Many trees have given their lives in the last few weeks so we can learn of the “ordeal” which the accused pair are going through in Lima.
The Daily Mail, as ever, led the way, informing us that the prison the two women are being held in is a “hellhole”. However, the paper assured us this was nothing compared with the “notorious” jail which awaits them should they be convicted, where HIV and TB are rife among the 1,000 women crammed into a building designed to hold only a quarter of that number.
If the two women are indeed being kept in inhumane conditions then I feel sorry for them – but only as sorry as I feel for all their fellow inmates. If the prisons conditions in Peru aren’t good enough for two Europeans, then they’re not good enough for anyone else either.
Perhaps the Mail regularly runs features on the inhumanity of Latin American prisons. But I doubt it.
It’s only when “girls” like “Michaella” and “Melissa” find themselves behind bars that we start to learn about the “hellholes” which await those who fall foul of the law in the developing world.