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Sudanese man freed after pleading guilty to obstruction over Channel Tunnel walk

Published 22/06/2016

Abdul Rahman Haroun will face Canterbury Crown Court
Abdul Rahman Haroun will face Canterbury Crown Court

A Sudanese man who was granted asylum in the UK after trekking through the Channel Tunnel has walked free from court after pleading guilty to an obstruction charge.

Abdul Rahman Haroun, 40, was granted permission to stay in Britain after being caught walking near the end of the 31-mile (50km) sub-sea tunnel at Folkestone, Kent, on August 4 last year.

Ahead of a trial at Canterbury Crown Court, he changed his plea to guilty to "obstructing an engine or a carriage using a railway".

Judge Adele Williams sentenced him to nine months in jail but freed him due to time he has already spent in custody.

Sentencing Haroun, the judge told him: "You not only put your own life in danger but, in my judgment, you put the lives and safety of others in danger."

The judge acknowledged that Haroun had travelled from Sudan "in a state of desperation" when he decided to walk through the tunnel.

But she said: "The reason why the courts of the United Kingdom take such a serious view of this criminality is that those who enter in this way seek to evade the authorities, who can, therefore, have no check upon who is entering the country.

"In the world in which we live of international crime and terrorism that is a very serious matter."

She went on: "You caused enormous inconvenience to a large number of people. It caused significant economic loss. The Channel Tunnel and the uninterrupted operation of the tunnel are of great importance to both the United Kingdom and France.

"Let there be no mistake, disrupting the operation of the Channel Tunnel in this way is a very serious offence which will almost always result in an immediate sentence of imprisonment."

The judge noted that two other people unconnected to Haroun had been jailed earlier this year after walking through the Chunnel.

But she added: "Each of those defendants committed this offence in more serious circumstances than you have done."

Risking death by dodging high-speed trains, Haroun walked through the Channel Tunnel towards waiting British police officers on the Kent side at around 6pm.

Prosecutor Philip Bennetts QC said: "He was asked how he had got into the tunnel and he said 'I came from France, always trying to get here'."

He said he jumped over the perimeter fence by himself before "walking sometimes on the right and sometimes on the left" in the tunnel, Mr Bennetts said.

Up until then, his perilous journey had involved travelling for a month to Egypt, then Libya before crossing the sea to Italy, a previous hearing was told. He then made his way to France and Calais.

In an interview with the Home Office, Haroun described how he had been persecuted by the Janjaweed militia, forcing him to flee his home in 2004.

He ended up in a camp at the Kari-Yari dam on the Sudan-Chad border, where he was said to have spent many years living in difficult circumstances, the previous hearing was told.

After reaching France, Haroun spent up to seven days in Calais before walking through the tunnel.

Speaking through an interpreter, he told police following his arrest: "I came here for protection and to be safe."

He added: "It was the only solution, yeah."

And he went on: "I didn't have any orders ... there wasn't any other solution."

Mr Bennetts said Haroun pleaded not guilty at Medway Magistrates' Court on August 6 last year to the carriage obstruction charge, under Section 36 of the Malicious Damages Act 1861.

Then, on Christmas Eve, the Home Office recognised him as a refugee and granted him asylum, a decision criticised by some, including Chunnel operator Eurotunnel, who said it might encourage copycat attempts.

The case against Haroun was put in the balance following the asylum decision but following legal argument a judge later ruled that proceedings would go ahead before his change of plea on Wednesday.

Mr Bennetts said the security breach by Haroun had caused "significant disruption" and a "significant economic consequence" and led to delays of up to four hours for cross-Channel travellers.

Richard Thomas, defending, said in mitigation: "This is not a case where there was a mass influx, or causing damage or assaulting tunnel staff.

"This is a case where the defendant was recognised in fact to be a refugee."

He said Haroun's refugee status gives him "credibility", adding: "In fact he was recognised in real haste."

Countless migrants have risked death trying to enter Britain from near Calais where an estimated 6,000 people who have fled war, poverty and persecution are camped at the Jungle.

Anglo-French efforts have been made to bolster border security, including the investment of millions of pounds in fencing at Coquelles and extra perimeter fencing.

But rising number of refugees are still flocking to the camp, according to census figures released this week by Help Refugees and L'Auberge des Migrants.

Volunteers said the number of unaccompanied children has risen by 32% in one month. The youngest child without an adult at the camp is 10 years old.

The agencies said messages from both British and French authorities were doing little to deter people displaced from unstable regions from making the journeys.

Refugees from Afghanistan are the largest national group in the camp, making up 36% of its inhabitants, while those from Sudan make up 32%.

Mr Thomas had unsuccessfully applied to stay the case as an abuse of process at an earlier hearing.

The judge had considered whether Haroun's actions could be deemed to have been "reasonably or necessarily committed" and offered him protection under Article 31 of the UN Convention.

During the previous hearing, the judge said that, had Haroun been charged with documentary or deception offences, he would have had a defence available to him.

But she said the real issue was whether Haroun's actions, which caused a "significant amount of logistic and economic disruption", could be said to be "reasonably and necessarily committed".

The judge in turn ruled that the offence Haroun was charged with did not fall within the protection offered by Article 31 and the application was thrown out.

During the sentencing, Judge Williams questioned why Haroun had not sought asylum in the first safe country he arrived in.

A statement released by caseworker Sadie Castle, of Kent Defence, said Haroun intended to appeal against his conviction.

The statement said: "Mr Haroun will be released today. He is relieved that the Crown Court proceedings have concluded and that he will not be returning to prison.

"Mr Haroun has pleaded guilty following a legal ruling by the judge. He obviously respects that ruling but will in due course be appealing his conviction at the Court of Appeal.

"His priority now is to focus on rebuilding his life in the UK."

A statement from Eurotunnel said: "Eurotunnel is satisfied that the seriousness of this crime has been recognised by the court and that the accused has not only been found guilty, but also received a custodial sentence.

"By entering the Channel Tunnel, apart from putting his own and others' lives at risk, Mr Haroun caused disruption to international travel and trade through this vital link.

"Mr Haroun sought to travel from one safe country, France, to the UK via the Channel Tunnel.

"This case should show others that they cannot illegally disrupt Channel Tunnel services with impunity".

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