Writer says online trolls should lay off drug smuggler Michaella McCollum
The public should lay off Michaella McCollum, says an Ulster writer whose latest show is inspired by the Peru Two.
And Kat Woods has called for more help for drugs users after the recent spate of deaths in Belfast.
The Enniskillen writer penned stage show 'Mule' after following the stories of the Tyrone woman and Glaswegian Melissa Reid, jailed in 2013 for trying to smuggle £1.5 million worth of cocaine out of Peru.
She's slammed the trolling of the young women, particularly Michaella who was subjected to vile abuse online, and says blaming traffickers lets drugs bosses off the hook.
Michaella McCollum and Melissa Reid after their arrest in 2013
Mule has already been a massive hit at the Edinburgh Festival for Kat, who opted not to speak to the two women.
But she hopes it will shine a light on addiction and drug use after five people, including a 16-year-old girl, died in the space of a few days in Belfast. Police suspect all five deaths were drug-related.
"Drugs are a symptom of addiction. People with addictions will find something else and more needs to be done to help those people and their families," says Kat.
"Drugs will only stop coming into a country if people stop using them."
Kat, who has established a reputation for hard-hitting plays with previous works about sexual consent and a gay man growing up on the Shankill Road, says she doesn't tell people what to think about the Peru Two.
"You can't judge people until you do a mile in their shoes.
"The documents I uncovered during my research for the play showed that drug traffickers target vulnerable young women - they have feminised the drugs trade.
"If you're down on your luck and you have no money you or I might lift the phone and ask for help, but we don't know the influences on the choices they made," she says.
"The case would also have been reported very differently if they were two men rather than two pretty girls."
The London-based writer says her research uncovered that drugs bosses are often allowed to escape the law while their mules are portrayed as villains.
In South America particularly, corruption makes the gang leaders untouchable.
"The cartels go unpunished. They pay off police departments and government officials.
"All the onus seems to be on the drugs smuggler and the cartels will always pick the most vulnerable in society who are then used as scapegoats," says Kat.
The show follows the descent into hell of two young women who are offered an easy opportunity to make money, which turns into years in a Peruvian prison.
She says McCollum and Reid will forever be branded as drugs mules, although Michaella has since courted the publicity which came with her conviction.
The Dungannon woman made a high-profile trip to Spain last month and another well-publicised trip to Ibiza the week before last, the first time she's returned since she was recruited there as a mule.
"I can't comment on the choices they are making now," says Kat.
Her work is already on the drama course at Ulster University and she's in talks for a TV treatment of Belfast Boy, based on the real-life experience of a former work colleague who shared stories of growing up LGBT on the Shankill Road.
Kat has also hit a nerve previously with Wasted, based on a sexual encounter between a drunk couple who both have very different accounts of whether it was consensual.
"I'm inspired by society's problems. With Mule I didn't want to write the story of the Peru Two, but it was inspired by it."
Mule is being staged as part of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival on May 7 at the Waterfront Studio in Belfast