A father-of-four from Britian, who faced up to five years in prison for attempting to smuggle a Syrian child into the UK from France, has instead been handed a suspended £1,000 fine by a French Court.
Rob Lawrie appeared at a packed hearing at the Tribunal Grande Instance in Boulogne on Thursday, charged with attempting to smuggle four-year-old refugee, Bahar Ahmadi – known as Bru, over the border.
The Shipley man explained how his ‘moment of madness’ had come about after connecting with Bru’s family during his aid visits and agreed to attempt to unite her with family already living in the UK.
Facing up to five years in a French prison, family and supporters of Mr Lawrie erupted with celebrations as the judge Louis-Benoit Betermiez ordered the former soldier to pay a fine of 1,000 euros for endangering a child’s life, suspended for five years.
Speaking outside court, Mr Lawrie told reporters: “Compassion has been in the dock here. France has sent out a message that when compassion is done from the heart, not to make money, not to benefit from it but when it is done really from the heart, France has sent out a message that compassion will win.”
An online petition with more than 52,000 signatures, calling on the UK government to intercede in the case, was delivered to the Foreign Office last week, whilst another appeal, open to people outside of the UK, received in excess of 116,000 backers.
He had hidden Bru in a small sleeping compartment in his van when he was stopped at the border.
Mr Lawrie told the court how his marriage had broken down, his business had failed, and that he had tried to kill himself following his arrest.
He added that he now felt ‘light’ as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“I’m going to have a few days off and then I’m going to raise the profile [of refugees] even more because we cannot simply leave these children,” he said.
“We need to get these children into our education system now because these guys are going to be doctors and lawyers and teachers if we get them now and educate them correctly.
“Or we can leave them in The Jungle to rot and die of cold.”