More than 166,000 people signed online petitions seeking leniency for a former British soldier facing trial in France this week for trying to smuggle a four-year-old Afghan girl into Britain from a refugee camp on the French coast.
Former soldier Rob Lawrie befriended the girl and her father as he was volunteering at the camp in northern France.
Lawrie said that the father asked him to take the girl to her relatives in England. He firstly refused but then his paternal instinct could not allow to leave her in what Lawrie described as the “squalid” camp.
"I do regret it because it has cost me everything," Lawrie told last week.
"It has cost me my family and it's financially bankrupted me, but that's about me. It was done on the spur of the moment about compassion. Yes I was compassionately right, but it was illegal - end of. It was illegal," he added.
More than 115,000 people, most of them based in France, signed just one online petition on change.org. The petition demanded the French courts to drop the charges and the British government to intervene in his case.
Over 51,000 people also signed another online petition on 38 Degrees demanding British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to ask his French counterpart for leniency for Lawrie.
On Oct. 24, Lawrie, a 49-year-old father of four, hid Bahar Ahmadi in his van but border police caught him and also found two Eritrean men in the back of the van. Lawrie defended himself by saying that they hid in the van without his knowledge.
Lawrie will appear in a French court on Jan. 14, accused of helping illegal immigration and could face a jail term of up to five years.
"(Bahar) is a special little girl. She's become almost representative of child refugees. After all the months I spent with her, I never saw her without a smile," Lawrie said.