A CAMPAIGN has been launched to help an aid worker from Leeds who is facing jail for trying to smuggle an Afghan child out of the Jungle refugee camp in Calais.
Former soldier Rob Lawrie, from Guiseley, was arrested after he was caught trying to leave the country with four-year-old Bahar Ahmadi, from Afghanistan.
He had been persuaded by the girl’s father, Reza, to bring her to Britain, where other relatives are already living legally.
But after being caught at Calais border control, the 49-year-old, who runs his own carpet cleaning business in Otley, spent five nights in a French prison and now faces a charge of aiding illegal immigration.
He could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a £21,400 fine.
Around 7,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the British government to intervene and ask the French for “clemency” in the case.
Mr Lawrie says he is only guilty of trying to act with “compassion”.
Posting on his Facebook page, Mr Lawrie said: “So let’s sum up the last week.
“Made some mistakes check YES; five days in a French nick on smuggling charges check YES.”
He added: “Worldwide support check YES; Tried to help wrongly or rightly check YES.”
Mr Lawrie’s case is due to be heard at court in Boulogne-sur-Mer in January.
His MP, Stuart Andrew, said he sympathised with Mr Lawrie’s situation.
He said: “It’s clear that he feels very passionately and that’s admirable. I have been to the Syrian refugee camp in southern Turkey and you can’t help but feel powerless.
“But he says he has been a bit foolish and the fact is that you can’t just smuggle people into the country.
“I hope that the court will act leniently. This is not a man who behaved with malice – he’s not a people smuggler and it would be really unfair to treat him as such. He was just a man who was trying to help.”
A group called ‘Support Rob Lawrie’ has been set up on Facebook and has already attracted nearly 700 members.