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UK man faces French trial for trying to save migrant girl

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2016 | 12:27 PM
Former British soldier Rob Lawrie speaks during an interview in Guiseley, England, yesterday.


Rob Lawrie had a choice. On one side lay the law - you can't sneak a four-year-old girl across international borders - and on the other side sat his sentiments: How could he leave that girl trapped in a squalid migrant camp?

He led with his heart - and was caught. He goes on trial Thursday in France, accused of aiding illegal immigration for trying to take Bahar Ahmadi from the settlement in Calais, France, to safety in England, where the Afghan girl had family waiting to look after her.

Judges in Boulogne-Sur-Mer will determine if the ex-British soldier is a criminal, or a compassionate man who couldn't turn his back on a child in need.

In September, he gave in to the repeated pleas of the girl's father, Reza Ahmadi, who begged him to spirit his daughter across the English Channel, but they were stopped by guards who eventually found her squirrelled away in Lawrie's van, teddy bear squeezed tightly to her chest.

Lawrie, 49, faces criminal charges that carry a maximum prison term of five years and a €30,000 (US$32,500) fine - even as thousands have flocked to his Facebook page to express admiration for what he's done and signed an online petition urging the British government to ask the French for clemency.

"I had told her father 'no' many times," Lawrie said in his small suburban-style house in Guiseley, 210 miles (335 kilometres) north of London. "But half past 10 one rainy night, when she fell asleep on my knee as I was leaving for the ferry, I just couldn't leave her there anymore. All rational thought left my head."