UK

British Aid Worker Rob Lawrie Avoids Prison Over Attempt To Smuggle Afghan Girl To UK

14/01/2016 13:16 GMT | Updated 14/01/2016 17:59 GMT

A British aid worker and former soldier who tried to smuggle an Afghan girl into Britain has avoided a prison sentence.

Rob Lawrie was given a suspended fine of €1,000 (£750) by a French court on Thursday afternoon.

In a packed hearing at the Tribunal Grande Instance in Boulogne on Thursday, Lawrie, who suffers from bipolar disorder and Tourette's Syndrome, told how his business had failed, his marriage had broken down and he had tried to kill himself since his arrest, the Press Association reported.

He said he had acted stupidly in hiding Bru in a sleeping compartment but had simply been trying to take her from The Jungle refugee camp to family members already living legally near him in the UK.

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Lawrie asked for leniency in his treatment

Judge Louis-Benoit Betermiez ordered the Lawrieto pay the fine for endangering the child's life but suspended it for five years as long as Lawrie commits no further crime in France.

There was a huge round of applause from his supporters as he broke down in tears in court.

Speaking at a press conference in Boulogne earlier in the day with the four-year-old sitting on his lap, the father-of-four appealed for leniency from authorities.

The 49-year-old said he would admit illegally trying to get Bahar Ahmadi - known as Bru - into the UK hidden in his van.

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Rob Lawrie and Bru speak at a press conference

The Press Association reported that he told the assembled media: "They see the media attention I have been getting and I think it could go one of two ways.

"France has an opportunity to show, as I know they are, a compassionate country. But they also have an opportunity to say we are now allowing this to happen and we are sending a message to all the well-intentioned volunteers."

He added that he regretted his actions and would not do it again.

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Asked what his advice would be to others thinking of copying, he added: "Don't do it. On a personal level it will ruin your life."

Speaking to the Guardian, he added: “I’m just a simple man from the north of England. But I have always said it’s not about me, it is a platform for me to use to highlight cases like Bru’s.

“People in Britain think it’s just young black men trying to get on trains and lorries to cross the Channel and I like to think I have shown that this is not the case and am giving people the proof.”

Lawrie got to know Bru while at the ‘Jungle’ in Calais, where he was helping to build shelters.

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Lawrie met Bru in the Calais 'Jungle' camp

Her father asked him to help get the young girl to close family members living legally in Leeds and Lawrie agreed.

He was on his way back to his home in Guiseley, Leeds, in October, when he was caught. British sniffer dogs found two Eritrean men who, unbeknown to him, had also stowed away in the back of his van.

As police led him away from his vehicle in handcuffs, Lawrie admitted that Bru was also in there and sent officers back to rescue her.

He said that French police appeared to believe his story when they brought the youngster into the detention centre and she ran over to give him a cuddle.