A British ex-soldier who tried to smuggle a four-year old Afghani girl from Calais into Britain will go on trial in France, facing a charge of aiding illegal immigration. Saying French law protects those who help people in danger from being punished, his lawyer says she will seek acquittal.
CALAIS, FRANCE (REUTERS) – A British ex-soldier hopes to be cleared of all charges in France after trying to smuggle a small Afghan girl into Britain at her father’s request, since French law protects from punishment those who help people in danger, his lawyer said on Tuesday (January 12).
Rob Lawrie, a 49-year-old father of four, goes on trial on Thursday (January 14) in northern France on a charge of aiding illegal immigration at a time of bitter debate across Europe over how to tackle the continent’s worst refugee crisis since World War Two.
On October 24, at her father’s request, Lawrie hid four-year-old Bahar Ahmadi in his van and set from a French migrant camp for Britain.
French border police stopped him, also finding two Eritrean men in the back of the van, and returned Bahar to her father.
“Rob always said that what he did was stupid and he should never have done it. He does not claim this action. Nonetheless, the child was in a desperate situation, one of imminent danger, it was very cold at the end of October, he wanted to save her live, that’s what he meant to do. It happened one night, it was extremely cold, they were gathered around a fire. He thought: What do I do? Do I let her sleep in the cold or do I put my truck and bring her to her aunt? He decided on the second solution,” Lawrie’s lawyer Lucie Abassade told Reuters Television in Paris.
“What does it mean in terms of law? French law says that in certain circumstances, notably humanitarian ones, the person can’t be charged. If ever the goal is to help someone or to save someone’s life, you can’t be charged. So that’s what we’re going to explain to the judge during the trial,” she added, saying she would tell the judge there was no financial transaction between Lawrie and the family, and that he was helping a little girl in danger.
“The first thing is: Rob Lawrie has always said ‘I did it and I’m sorry I did it and I wish I hadn’t’. Is he not guilty? Not quite. But in French law you have parts of the legislation which says that if you help someone in danger and you’re not being paid, by giving them food or shelter or safeguarding their physical integrity, you can’t be charged with anything. So my main point, I’m going to say Mr. Lawrie did exactly that. He wanted to rescue a little girl, he wanted to save her, to safeguard her physical integrity by bringing her to her relatives in the UK,” Lawrie said.
Lawrie, from Guiseley in northern England, was released after the incident and will return to France for the trial, Abassade said.
Lawrie told Reuters he felt he needed to help refugees after pictures of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi stirred worldwide sympathy in September for Syrians and Afghans fleeing war and poverty.
He closed his carpet-cleaning business and headed to migrant camps in northern France to deliver tents, aid and help build temporary structures for those living there.
Among those he met were Bahar Ahmadi and her father Reza.
The little girl followed him around the camp in Calais and he struck up a friendship with her.
He refused several times to take the child with him to relatives in Britain until one day he felt he could no longer say no, his lawyer said.
Britain has declined to admit any migrants from Calais or anywhere else in Europe, saying this would only spur more to stream into the continent, instead taking only some from refugee camps in Middle East countries neighbouring Syria.
If convicted, Lawrie risks as much as five years in jail and a 30,000-euro (£22,544.17) fine.
“I think Rob Lawrie feels terrible that he had to break the law, that’s the main thing. He has never broken the law before, he has never gone to court before and he doesn’t want to, basically. And this all story has been a nightmare for him, the consequences of it have been really hard for him. So I am positive he’s not going to do it again. He is willing to keep helping refugees in a legal way but he is never going to try to help this way ever again because the consequences have been too harsh,” his lawyer said.
Two online petitions have attracted more than 150,000 signatures asking for leniency for Lawrie.