April 1, 2016 / 12:07 PM / a year ago

British judge says trial of Channel Tunnel refugee will go ahead

Sudanese migrant Abdul Haroun leaves the Crown Court in Canterbury, Britain January 21, 2016.Stefan Wermuth

CANTERBURY, England (Reuters) - A judge refused on Friday to halt the criminal damage trial of a refugee from Darfur who walked through the Channel Tunnel in one of the most dramatic attempts to reach Britain since Europe's migration crisis began.

Abdul Haroun's case has prompted debate in Britain between critics who want him prosecuted to deter others from attempting the 50-km walk through the railway tunnel from France, and supporters who say he should be free to start a new life.

His trial had been set for June and Judge Adele Williams ruled at Canterbury Crown Court in southeast England that it should go ahead.

"Having heard legal argument, the court has ruled that the prosecution against this defendant should continue and the matter is fixed for trial on June 20," she said.

Haroun, 40, was arrested in August 2015 as he neared the English end of the tunnel at Folkestone, having walked in darkness for some 12 hours, dodging passing trains along the way. He was charged with obstructing a railway.

He spent five months in prison until he was granted asylum on Dec. 24 and freed on bail on Jan. 4.

Thousands of migrants have been camping in squalor around Calais at the French end of the Channel Tunnel, trying to get to Britain by stowing away on trucks or trains. Haroun is the first known to have made it on foot.

The operator of the Channel Tunnel, Eurotunnel, said on Thursday that extra security measures introduced last year had ended disruptions caused by migrants trying to get to Britain.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Stephen Addison

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