Com­pas­sion wins

French court shows le­niency to U.K. man try­ing to res­cue Afghan girl

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

A Bri­tish man who risked be­ing con­victed as a smug­gler pre­vailed in court Thurs­day, con­vinc­ing judges that he acted with his heart when he tried to de­liver a four-year-old Afghan girl from a squalid mi­grant camp in France to fam­ily mem­bers in Bri­tain.

The three-judge panel threw out the smug­gling charge — which car­ried a penalty of up to five years in prison — con­vict­ing him in­stead of the far less griev­ous crime of en­dan­ger­ment and sus­pended the 1000-euro ($1,090) fine.

The court room erupted in cheers at the ver­dict.

Rob Lawrie, 49, a for­mer sol­dier and car­pet cleaner from Leeds, had been help­ing mi­grants as a vol­un­teer when he was caught Oct. 24 by French bor­der po­lice with Ba­har Ah­madi tucked away with her teddy bear in a cache in his van. He has since gained a fan club on Face­book and among vol­un­teers like him­self who are help­ing refugees and other mi­grants.

“The French jus­tice sys­tem sent out a mes­sage to­day,” he said af­ter the ver­dict. “When com­pas­sion is in the heart, com­pas­sion will win.”

The court cited his “per­son­al­ity” in its de­ci­sion and said the far less se­ri­ous con­vic­tion served as a “warn­ing.”

Lawrie re­it­er­ated nu­mer­ous times dur­ing the three-hour trial that his ac­tions were “ir­ra­tional” and “very stupid” and guided by fa­tigue and emo­tions. But he stressed the plight of mi­grants cast away in the camps in north­ern France.

He will not have to pay the fine, but it goes on his crim­i­nal record in France. He had faced a max­i­mum prison term of five years and a 30,000-euro ($32,000) fine.

Just be­fore the trial, Lawrie ap­peared with the girl in his arms at a news con­fer­ence in north­ern France, plead­ing for un­der­stand­ing.

“What you’re look­ing at here is a waste of life. She’s liv­ing in a refugee camp,” Lawrie told re­porters as Ba­har smiled timidly for the cam­eras. “Peo­ple call it smug­gling ... I was res­cu­ing the lit­tle girl.”

He agreed, how­ever, that his de­ci­sion was mis­guided.

“I’m sorry. I re­gret it and I wouldn’t do it again,” he said.

Ah­madi had been liv­ing with her father in the Calais camp, which is mired in mud and now home to at least 4,200 mi­grants try­ing to sneak into Bri­tain. It is the big­gest of sev­eral mi­grant camps that have sprung up in north­ern France.

AP PHOTO

Rob Lawrie, of Bri­tain, with Ba­har Ah­madi, a 4-year-old Afghan girl, an­swers re­porters dur­ing a news con­fer­ence near Boulogne-sur-Mer, north­ern France, Thurs­day.

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