A British aid worker has avoided jail after admitting trying to smuggle an Afghan girl into Britain from France.
Former soldier Rob Lawrie, 49, feared being jailed for up to five years and had appealed for clemency for trying to get four-year-old Bahar Ahmadi – known as Bru – into the UK hidden in his van in October.
The young girl and her family accompanied him to a packed hearing at the Tribunal de Grande Instance court in Boulogne on Thursday, after appearing with him at an earlier press conference in the town.
They were present as Mr Lawrie, who suffers from bipolar disorder and Tourette’s syndrome, told the packed court his business had failed, his marriage had broken down and he had tried to kill himself since his arrest.
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.
Judge Louis-Benoit Betermiez ordered the father of four from Leeds to pay a suspended fine of 1,000 euro (£750) for endangering a child’s safety.
There was a huge round of applause from Mr Lawrie’s many supporters as he broke down in tears after the sentence was handed down.
Speaking outside the courtroom, Mr Lawrie said: “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.”
He added that he had had a heavy weight on his shoulders but now felt “light” and would continue fighting to get help for child refugees in The Jungle.
He said: “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 ... we need to get these children now and into our education system 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.”