$6m to keep tabs on Assange

By Cole Moreton

A supporter says it's a waste of money.

Assange has been hiding from the law in a cramped basement room at the Ecuadorean embassy for nearly a year. Photo / Supplied
Assange has been hiding from the law in a cramped basement room at the Ecuadorean embassy for nearly a year. Photo / Supplied

The cost of policing the Ecuadorean Embassy in Knightsbridge while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange takes refuge inside has now risen to £3.3 million ($6.2 million), Scotland Yard has disclosed.

Assange has been hiding from the law in a cramped basement room at the embassy for nearly a year. By the time the anniversary falls on June 19, policing costs are expected to have gone beyond £4.2 million.

There are believed to be eight officers on duty at any one time. A red police car and a white police van are parked opposite the embassy, which occupies part of a red-brick apartment block near Harrods.

At least one officer waits on the steps of the embassy at all times, dressed in black with body armour, ready to arrest Assange if he leaves the building. Others are thought to question visitors inside during opening hours, in case he attempts to escape in disguise.

The price to the British taxpayer of all this, as well as policing the demonstrations that take place in the street from time to time, is now around £11,600 a day.

Communicating with the outside world by mobile telephone and laptop, the 41-year-old Australian is trying to avoid being extradited to Sweden, where two women accuse him of rape and sexual assault.

He denies their claims but refuses to go to Sweden without a strong promise that he will not be extradited onwards to the United States, where he would face charges of espionage relating to WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, he describes his living conditions in London as like "being in a space station".

Former high-profile supporters such as Jemima Khan have lost faith in him since he sought asylum, and as the stalemate goes on, even some of those who keep a vigil outside the embassy are becoming disillusioned. One said last week it was all "a dreadful waste of taxpayers' money".

Dominic Shelmerdine, an author, was standing in the rain with half a dozen others on Thursday, holding a laminated placard in support of Assange.

Describing himself as a "staunch Thatcherite Tory" who had stood there "in all weathers" the 52-year-old said he did it because he "believed in the cause of WikiLeaks".

However, the following day, Shelmerdine sent an email to say he was now "minded to give up altogether".

- Daily Telegraph UK

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 19 Dec 2014 12:58:57 Processing Time: 634ms