The family of a British woman detained in Egypt on suspicion of trafficking drugs have spoken of their fear and confusion over her legal representation.
Rachel Plummer, whose sister Laura, 33, has been held in Egypt since 9 October for allegedly carrying 29 strips of the painkillers Tramadol and Naproxen, said the family had been charged large sums of money by lawyers claiming they could free her sister, who remains in detention.
Tramadol, an opioid, is a controlled substance in Egypt, where it is often used as a heroin substitute.
Laura Plummer was detained at Hurghada airport in Egypt after a scan of her bag revealed she was carrying nearly 300 pills. She was taken to a holding area and questioned for five hours.
Her sister said Laura was appointed a lawyer in the holding room who told her: “If you don’t give me £10,000, you will go to prison for 15 years”.
Rachel said the lawyer instructed Laura’s Egyptian partner, Omar, who had been waiting for her outside the airport, to flee.
Laura was pressed into signing a 38-page document in Arabic, with no understanding of what she was signing, Rachel said. Her lawyer was present when the document was signed.
Laura has spent the last month in a detention centre in Hurghada, in a cramped cell with up to 25 other people. Her third trial hearing is expected on Saturday.
After Laura’s detention, her family hired a new lawyer. “He didn’t last long,” said Rachel. “He demanded £20,000, but wanted Laura to lie and say [the drugs] were planted on her.” The family declined. “As a family we refuse to let Laura lie. He told us it’s the only way she’ll come home, but we took the risk,” she said.
“It was only with our mum’s second visit to Hurghada that we got this third lawyer,” she explained, referring to Laura’s new legal counsel obtained through the British consulate. She added that a British consulate representative had visited Laura in jail and told her: “Laura, we’re not a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
Laura says she took the Tramadol to Hurghada for Omar, whom she met four years ago while on holiday in the Sinai resort town of Sharm El Sheikh. The pair later obtained a marriage document to allow them to stay together during Laura’s visits, as unmarried foreigners and Egyptians are forbidden to rent accommodation together under Egyptian law. It is not clear if their marriage is official.
Rachel said Omar did not press Laura to bring the drugs to Egypt, but that she had been offered the prescription medication by a work colleague after discussing Omar’s back pain, which stems from a car accident three years ago.
“[Laura and Omar would] speak on the phone for hours every night without fail,” said Rachel. “My mum hears Laura laughing all night in her bedroom – he makes her very happy.
“If he’d set her up like people say, then he would have run,” she added. “At the airport he was pushed out by Laura’s lawyer and told to flee. He refused and stood outside waiting all night for her to come out.”
The Plummers, from Hull, are desperately hoping that better legal representation will bring Laura home. “I just want to say how sorry we are to the Egyptian government for this stupid mistake,” said Rachel. “We know there’s a law, we understand that. But she’s been punished enough now.”
A British embassy representative has made regular visits to Laura and has been communicating with her family.
Laura’s local MP, Karl Turner, has said that the Foreign Office are involved and that the British embassy in Cairo has provided her with a lawyer.