Her four children were torn from their mother’s arms at an airport in Venezuela after £1.2million of cocaine was found
All through her years in a filthy South American jail, Laura Webb dreamt of the day she would see her four young children again.
It was that hope which kept her alive while she struggled through 36 brutal months for a crime she did not commit.
But the reunion when it came was bittersweet. Laura was finally freed just a few weeks ago.
And her two youngest children didn’t know who she was… as they were too young to remember her.
All four children were torn from their mother’s arms at an airport in Venezuela after £1.2million of cocaine was found in the family’s suitcases.
Laura had been duped by her ex-husband Paul Makin, who had selfishly used her and the children to smuggle drugs into Britain.
The terrified children spent two weeks in an overcrowded orphanage before they were brought home by a relative.
Laura, 34, would spend the next three years in fear for her life while trying to sleep on the concrete floors of one of the world’s most notorious jails.
Her two youngest children would forget her face. But, slowly and gently, she is getting to know them again.
“Seeing them for the first time was such an emotional experience,” she says.
“The babies had grown so much. I knelt down in front of them both and said: ‘hi, it’s mummy.’ They looked back at me a little blankly.
“It was so hard, but I knew they had been too young to remember me so I had prepared myself for it.
“I asked if I could have a hug and they both put their arms around my neck. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming.
“I stood up and turned to the older two. They had huge smiles.
“They said: ‘Hi mum’, and threw their arms around me. We hung on to each other for what seemed like an eternity.
“The little ones are getting to know me more and more. It’s heartbreaking. I hope and pray that one day things will be different.
“There were moments over the last three years when I didn’t think I would ever make it home to them.
“They kept me going. I thought of them every minute of every day. They saved my life.”
Speaking of her hellish ordeal for the first time this week, Laura recalled how she was persuaded by ex-husband Paul, 34, to go on a week’s holiday with him and the children in February 2009.
He’s the father of the two youngest children. The older two are Laura’s from a earlier relationship.
“The kids had never been on holiday, let alone abroad,” says Laura. “They were so excited, so I agreed.”
A few nights before they were due to leave, bus driver Paul delivered three new matching suitcases to Laura’s house in Birkenhead, Wirral.
“We didn’t have any of our own,” says Laura. “Paul said he’d take care of it.”
The older two helped fill them with shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops for the beach.
At the Laguna Mar hotel on the holiday island of Margarita, Laura and ex-soldier Paul had separate rooms and the children stayed with her.
“They absolutely loved it,” she says. “The older two were in and out of the pool all day and I was with the babies in the shade. Paul did his own thing.
“There were some days when I didn’t see him at all.
“He often left the hotel and didn’t come back for several hours. I didn’t know what he was doing and I didn’t really care.”
On the day they left, Paul loaded their four cases on to the coach which took them to the airport.
“We joined lots of other families in the queue to check in,” says Laura.
“I could see everyone’s cases being searched on a table by uniformed customs officials.
“When it was finally our turn, I lifted my case up on to the table and smiled at the officer. He opened it, had a look inside, then closed it and handed it back.
“Then Paul lifted the first of the other three cases on to the table. The guard opened it, looked inside, and then suddenly stopped.
“He called two other officers over and began talking to them in Spanish. I looked at Paul but he wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“The officers ushered us away from the queue and into an office.
“The suitcase was put on a table and Paul stood in front of it. The officer turned it upside down, emptied everything and flipped it over.
“Suddenly, he had a knife in his hand and just plunged it through the bottom of the case.
“Instantly, a cloud of white powder, like a puff of thin smoke, blew upwards. It was like something out of a film.
“I couldn’t believe it. I cried out, ‘What have you done?’ My mind seemed to connect everything together instinctively. Paul had been in trouble with the police over drugs before.
“I knew it was cocaine. I knew Paul was behind it. I knew he’d used the kids and me to try to get away with it. It all swam into my mind at the same time.”
Laura fainted and came round several minutes later in a different office.
“The children looked terrified,” she says. “They started crying and clinging on to me.
“Deep down, I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong so I presumed nothing was going to happen to us. I thought the children and I would just get on the flight without him.”
Paul admitted the cocaine was his and that he had been trying to smuggle it into Britain.
He told the officers Laura knew nothing of what he’d done and pleaded with them to let her and the children go.
But several hours later, a British Consulate official arrived and explained they were both being held and the children were being placed in temporary care
“I told them ‘no’ and drew the kids to me,” says Laura.
“I squeezed them tight and tried not to cry. But it was too hard. Paul tried to put his arms around us all but I spat at him to get away.
“The older two were either side of me and put both their arms tight around me. They were crying hysterically and their fingers had to be prised open.
“Seconds later, the door had opened and closed and they were gone.
“Paul hadn’t said a word. If I’d had a knife I would have killed him.”
Laura and Paul were locked up in Venezuela’s notorious San Antonio jail to await trial.
“I was the only British woman in there,” says Laura. “The conditions were horrific. As I was led in, I could feel hundreds of eyes on me.
“There was filth everywhere. I was led to a stinking, dark room and told that was where I would sleep.
“It was the size of a living room but 18 women slept inside. There were no beds.
“Everyone slept on the floor. I ended up with a tiny patch up against a filthy sink unit.
“The only shower was an old rubber hosepipe which just trickled cold water. None of the other women I shared with spoke English.
“That first night, I cried the entire time. I thought, ‘My God, I can’t do this. I’m going to die in here.’ I heard rats scuttling about and there was a constant noise of women shouting and arguing.
“I was so scared I didn’t sleep a second.”
After two weeks, Laura was charged with drug trafficking and told her trial would take two years to reach court.
“Paul was in the room with me and we were told at the same time,” says Laura. “I flipped. I attacked him and had to be pulled off by three people.
“The news almost killed me. For weeks I felt lower than I ever thought possible. The first Christmas was horrendous.
“The children were back home in the UK by then, which I was so grateful for. But to not be with them on Christmas Day was heartbreaking.
“A few inmates managed to get hold of mobiles and one let me call them.
“I spoke to the older two and lied that I was fine. I said I would see them soon and wished them a Merry Christmas.
“They were really strong and didn’t cry, but inside I was in agony.
“I managed to call home now and again and speak to my mum and dad but I found it so distressing that I didn’t do it often.
“I just told myself that the children and mum and dad were at home, they’re getting on with life and they’re fine.
“Worrying about them was too upsetting. But I missed the children so badly.”
Somehow Laura settled into a routine, learning a little Spanish as she tried to talk to the other women.
Food was mostly rice and beans and a little meat scavenged from kind guards.
But jail was still a dangerous place.
“I was in fear for my life most days,” says Laura. “I had to be so careful. The wrong look or the wrong word to the wrong person could be fatal.
“I got into an argument with a Jamaican woman over a carton of fruit juice.
“She stabbed me in the arm with a pair of scissors. I had to fight back or I’m sure she would have killed me.
“I made some friends but the language barrier was hard. Mercifully, all the guards were good to us. Mostly, I kept myself to myself and thought of home.”
In July 2009, seven months after being arrested, Paul admitted trying to smuggle 23kg of cocaine and was given an eight-year sentence.
Six months after that, Laura pleaded not guilty but was convicted of being his accomplice and sentenced to four years and six months.
Due to time already served and for good behaviour she was released last month.
“Mum and dad met me at Manchester airport and I fell into their arms,”says Laura. “We were all crying, but this time it was through relief and joy.”
The following day came the long-awaited reunion with her precious children.
“One day I’ll tell them how they got me through all this… and how I owe them my life,” said Laura.