Belfast Telegraph

Julian Assange: Pizza and a huge policing bill? Did he have to cost us so much?

By Lindy McDowell

Julian Assange and that estimated security bill of £12.6m for police monitoring his stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy - is this the most outrageous accommodation bill in history? Assange infamously fled to the Knightsbridge embassy seeking asylum way back in June 2012.

At the time, Mr Self-Styled Persecuted of Wikileaks was facing extradition to Sweden (he still is) to face allegations of sexual assault.

Some of these charges, which he has always denied, have now been dropped since police there have run out of time to question him under Swedish law. But an allegation of rape (which he also denies) is still outstanding.

Assange maintains that the court moves are a ruse to get him extradited, first to Sweden, so that he could then be sent on to the US to face charges of leaking American secrets.

But this is Sweden we're talking about. Sweden. One of the fairest, most liberal, most open nations on earth. Why would the Swedes collude in such a plan? Why would the women who made the allegations? This isn't Putin's Russia.

And it is entirely right, I think we'd all agree, that allegations of serious sexual assault - including rape - must be properly investigated. There is nothing unfair or unjust or outrageous about that.

Yet for three years now, Mr Assange has managed to avoid questioning and court action by remaining holed up in Ecuadorian diplomatic sanctuary. Ecuador was apparently worried about his human rights to the point where the country's government decided they could provide bedsit accommodation for him in their exclusive Knightsbridge address.


That's putting it mildly. It's cost the Metropolitan Police an estimated £12.6m to have mounted a guard outside in the years since. But now, this week, the Met announces the madness stops here. The bill is no longer considered "proportionate" (how was it ever?), although the place will remain under some sort of surveillance (undefined) and should Assange attempt to nip out for, say, a takeaway, they'll be on him faster than a Knightsbridge traffic warden.

It is hard to feel sympathy for Assange, who, in looks, has the vague air of a bottle blonde Jeremy Corbyn.

He moans that during his time holed up indoors, he has been deprived of fresh air and sunlight. That would be apart, presumably, from the odd foray onto the embassy balcony to address media below.

And if he is so concerned about vitamin deficiency, his diet would appear to suggest he's not too concerned about topping up the Vitamin D in food choices. After news of the Met move broke this week, photographers who have also kept something of a vigil outside, spotted a pizza being delivered to Mr J Assange.

Who has been paying for all this? Not just forking out the pizza dough (although that is a good question, too) but stumping up for that entire eye-watering security tab?

Short answer - the taxpayer.

Think how far that £12.6m could have gone to alleviate the sort of suffering we've seen in the news of late coming out of the migrant camps ...

How did the Met ever rack up such a bill in the first place? Approximately £4m per year works out at over ten grand a day. Who was standing guard? The Kardashians?

The problem the Met has had here (see also investigations into media phone-hacking - £40m - and the search for Madeleine McCann - £11m) is that when it takes these very high-profile stances on these very high-profile cases, it is hard to withdraw or even change tack.

Justice must be done, but to use the Met's own word, at some point there needs to be some sense of proportionate response.

In the case of Assange, pursue him absolutely, yes. But that £12.6m is a shameful sum. Surely there had to be a cheaper way of monitoring this man's movements.

Have they thought about posing as pizza delivery?

Shops' fave good cause? Themselves 

Coming through an American airport this week, I was stopped in a newsagents by a lady with the husky tones of one of Homer Simpson's sisters and the steely eye of Mr Burns and asked if I'd like to buy, "something from this selection".

She was gesturing towards small items being sold as "treats for the troops". I have nothing but admiration for the troops and nothing against sending them gifts.

But this was another example - of which we also have many here - of shops now flogging us items (and thus boosting their own profits) in the name of (them) supporting charity. Too cynical.

Will crash video change anything? 

The mother of a lad in England has released a video showing her son in a car being driven at reckless speed moments before his death. He can be heard asking the driver to slow down.

The video is, as reports say, "harrowing." His heartbroken mother wants it to be a warning to others. It is well-meaning and selfless of her to release the video. But you wonder how much it will actually warn off reckless youth, the target audience of risk takers who, after all, those scenes were originally being filmed to impress.

The young think they're invincible. They don't think it will ever happen to them.

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