Former soldier who smuggled Afghan child into Britain begs for compassion
Published 14/01/2016 | 10:49
A British aid worker and former soldier has called on France to show it is a "compassionate country" by dealing leniently with him for trying to smuggle an Afghan girl into Britain.
Father-of-four Rob Lawrie, 49, has said he will admit illegally trying to get Bahar Ahmadi - known as Bru - into the UK hidden in his van, when he appears in court in Boulogne on Thursday afternoon.
Mr Lawrie, from Guiseley, Leeds, appeared with Bru in his lap at a packed press conference in the French seaside town and said he was scared of being made an example of by the authority.
He told reporters: "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.
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."
Mr Lawrie was stopped in Calais as he returned home in October. The former Army physical training instructor said he was helping build shelters in The Jungle camp when he got to know Bru ,and her father asked him to help get her to close family members living legally in Leeds.
He was caught when British sniffer dogs found two Eritrean men who, unbeknown to him, had also stowed in the back of his van.
Mr Lawrie said he was not a hero but simply "an unemployed carpet cleaner from Leeds" who wanted to help and had never been in trouble before.
He likened the plight of refugees to the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and 1960s.
He said: "We will look back on modern history and say oh my God, we let kids live in refugee camps and not go to school. We will look back and see it like the civil rights movement in the US."
He told reporters his actions had left him penniless and on the edge of bankruptcy after giving up to £8,000 of his own money as well as collecting donations for the refugees.
French police arrested Mr Lawrie over the stowaways and it was only when he was handcuffed in custody that he had to tell the authorities to go back to the van and look for Bru.
Earlier this week he explained how French police appeared to believe his story when they took Bru into the detention centre and she ran over to give him a cuddle.
The former Royal Corps of Transport soldier has previously described his actions in October as a "moment of madness", but hopes the court will see that he "just tried to help a little girl".
Fellow refugee volunteer Jim Innes, who got to know Mr Lawrie through Facebook, started a UK petition on his behalf which gained more than 52,000 signatures asking the Government to intercede and was delivered to the Foreign Office last week.
A second petition open to people outside the UK has been signed by around 116,000 people.