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Ex-soldier Rob Lawrie shocked at truth about girl he rescued from Calais camp

16 Mar 2020 Daily Mail Online

A former soldier who avoided jail after attempting to smuggle a four-year-old Afghan girl out of Calais has been left stunned after discovering major parts of her family story are untrue.

Father-of-four Rob Lawrie, from Guiseley, West Yorkshire, stowed Bahar Ahmadi in his van after bonding with the child while volunteering in 'The Jungle' refugee and migrant camp in 2015.

The girl's father, Reza Ahmadi, claimed at the time that his family had fled Afghanistan after he received deaths threats from the Taliban - who believed him to be a supporter of the West because he spoke English - and that his wife had been killed.

But it has now emerged Mr Ahmadi, who begged Mr Lawrie to help his daughter, spent several decades living in Iran before entering Europe, and that the girl's mother, Goli, is alive and well, a BBC Radio 4 investigation has found.

Ex-soldier Rob Lawrie, who avoided jail after attempting to smuggle four-year-old Afghan girl Bahar Ahmadi (both pictured) out of Calais refugee and migrant camp 'The Jungle' in 2015, was shocked to discover key elements of her family story were untrue

Bahar's father, Reza Ahmadi (above, together), claimed at the time that his family had fled Afghanistan after he received deaths threats from the Taliban - who believed him to be a supporter of the West because he spoke English - and that his wife had been killed. But it has now emerged Mr Ahmadi spent several decades living in Iran before entering Europe, and that the girl's mother, Goli, is alive and well, a BBC Radio 4 investigation found

Goli, who now lives in Denmark with Bahar's younger sister, claims that Bahar was 'stolen' from the family home in Tehran without her knowledge and consent, The Times reported. 

Mr Lawrie, 53 - whose marriage broke down after he was arrested for child-smuggling - was shocked by the revelations and told the paper: 'I feel like I've been hit round the back of the head with a cricket bat, it's just staggering.'

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A court in France cleared Mr Lawrie of the most serious charge, in January 2016, and he was found guilty instead of 'endangerment' of the child's life and slapped with a suspended fine.

The military veteran now feels that he was apparently misled by Mr Ahmadi, who has since been granted asylum in the UK, and currently resides with his daughter in Scotland. The Home Office is said to be reviewing his asylum status.

It is believed Mr Ahmadi and Goli were born in Afghanistan but relocated to Iran when they were children. Mr Ahmadi is seen above outside the court in France where Mr Lawrie was charged with child smuggling. The military veteran, from West Yorkshire, was cleared of the most serious charge, in January 2016, and he was found guilty instead of 'endangerment' of the child's life and slapped with a suspended fine

Mr Lawrie, 53 - whose marriage broke down after he was arrested for child-smuggling - was shocked by the latest revelations, saying: 'I feel like I've been hit round the back of the head with a cricket bat, it's just staggering.' (He is seen above with Bahar)

Mr Lawrie feels that he was apparently misled by Mr Ahmadi, who has since been granted asylum in the UK, and currently resides with his daughter in Scotland

Goli, meanwhile, is keen to be reunited with Bahar, accoring to the BBC investigation - a ten-part Radio 4 series and podcast entitled Girl Taken. 

It is believed that Mr Ahmadi and Goli were born in Afghanistan but relocated to Iran when they were children.

Mr Lawrie's career has seen him serve for the Royal Corps of Transport in Bosnia and Northern Ireland and he has run his own courier business. 

An estimated 4,000 people lived in the Calais 'jungle' camp, hoping to reach Britain, with the lure of better job opportunities and the more familiar English language.

Most attempted the crossing by trying to board trains or trucks. The notorious camp was razed to the ground in October 2016, after police finally cleared the area after clashes with those staying there.

Military veteran on a mercy mission: How Rob Lawrie pleaded with France to show 'compassion'

Rob Lawrie was cleared of smuggling charges by a court in France in 2016.

On January 13 that year, he was cleared of the most serious charge after he appeared before a judge and pleaded with the country to show 'compassion' for his actions.

Mr Lawrie  admitted illegally trying to get Bahar Ahmadi, four - also known as 'Bru' - into the UK hidden in his van after bonding with the child while volunteering in 'The Jungle' in Calais.

When the verdict was announced, cheers erupted in the courtroom from the scores of migrant helpers and others present to support him.

Hours later, he revealed he had been given permission to personally return the girl to the refugee camp after she and her father attended court to support him.

Outside the court house, he told waiting media: 'The French justice system sent out a message today. When compassion is in the heart, compassion will win.'

Rob Lawrie was cleared of smuggling charges by a court in France in 2016 (pictured). Accused of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, he was facing charges that carried a maximum prison term of five years and a 30,000-euro fine

In a victory for the aid worker, Mr Lawrie avoided jail and a smuggling charge but was found guilty of 'endangerment' of the child's life and slapped with a suspended fine.

Just before the hearing, he had appeared with the child in his arms at a news conference, pleading for understanding of what he acknowledged was 'an irrational' decision.

In a packed hearing at the Tribunal Grande Instance in Boulogne, Mr Lawrie, who suffers from bipolar disorder and Tourette's Syndrome, told how his business had failed, his marriage had broken down and he had tried to kill himself since his arrest.

Accused of aiding and abetting illegal immigration, he was facing charges that carried a maximum prison term of five years and a 30,000-euro fine.

He told the BBC: 'Considering three hours ago I was expecting to go to jail, and now I've broken the highway code, I'm very ecstatic.

'I'd like to think we've shown the human side of the child suffering in these camps.'

Mr Lawrie, from Leeds, was stopped in Calais as he returned home in October after having spent time volunteering at the refugee camp known as 'The Jungle'.

The former Army physical training instructor said he was helping build shelters in the camp when he got to know Bru, and her father asked him to help get her to close family members living legally in Leeds.

'I had told her father "no" many times. 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.'

Earlier, Mr Lawrie told the court he had acted stupidly and irrationally in hiding Bru in the sleeping compartment.

He said he had crossed between France and the UK many times previously while helping refugees and had refused her father's pleas to take her to Britain many times.

But via an interpreter he told the judge: 'Each time I saw the little girl and her father in the work that I was doing. That night I just could not leave her there any more. It was wrong. It was the most stupid conceived plan.'

He was caught when British sniffer dogs found two Eritrean men who, unbeknownst to him, had also stowed in the back of his van.

French police arrested him over the stowaways and it was only when he was handcuffed in custody that he had to tell the authorities to go back to the van and look for Bru.

Mr Lawrie rejected the idea that he was trafficking for money, telling the judge: 'Her father is a farmer from Afghanistan. He doesn't have any money whatsoever.

'I have not only raised many thousands of pounds - I have put thousands of my own money into this. There is no way I would ever do this for money.

'She is four years old with a family who live near me and I had bonded with them. She was sleeping in a tent and she is a very clever girl.'

He added that Bru had been 'warm and safe' where she was hidden.

He said he had started raising money and travelling to the Jungle with aid after seeing the images of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean in September.

Earlier, he explained how French police appeared to believe his story when they took Bru into the detention centre and she ran over to give him a cuddle.

Original Link: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8116263/Ex-soldier-Rob-Lawrie-shocked-truth-girl-rescued-Calais-camp.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490

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