Julian Assange: 24-hour police watch at Ecuador embassy ends

British police watched building hosting WikiLeaks founder since 2012 - at £12m cost

British police officers are no longer stationed outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden over sex allegations, Scotland Yard has said.

Officers have been stationed there since 2012 at an estimated cost of more than £12 million (€16.2 million).

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police Service said it still intended to arrest him, but added: “Like all public services, MPS resources are finite. With so many different criminal, and other, threats to the city it protects, the current deployment of officers is no longer believed proportionate.”

The round-the-clock police presence became controversial as the cost spiralled with no sign of an end to the legal stand-off between Swedish prosecutors and Mr Assange, who claims that were he to go to Sweden would risk being handed over the US authorities for prosecution over WikiLeaks disclosures.

Arrest warrant

Mr Assange was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant in December 2010 and ordered to face extradition to answer sex charges, which he denies.

He faces immediate arrest should he emerge from the embassy.

In its statement, Scotland Yard said: “Whilst the MPS remains committed to executing the arrest warrant and presenting Julian Assange before the court, it is only right that the policing operation to achieve this is continually reviewed against the diplomatic and legal efforts to resolve the situation.

“As a result of this continual review, the MPS has today Monday, 12 October, withdrawn the physical presence of officers from outside the embassy.

“The operation to arrest Julian Assange does, however, continue and should he leave the Embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him.

“However, it is no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence.

“The MPS will not discuss what form its continuing operation will take or the resourcing implications surrounding it.

Overt and covert tactics

“Whilst no tactics guarantee success in the event of Julian Assange leaving the embassy, the MPS will deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him.

“This decision has not been taken lightly, and the MPS has discussed it with the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“A significant amount of time has passed since Julian Assange entered the embassy, and despite the efforts of many people there is no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue.

“The MPS has to balance the interests of justice in this case with the ongoing risks to the safety of Londoners and all those we protect, investigating crime and arresting offenders wanted for serious offences, in deciding what a proportionate response is.”

In a recent interview, Mr Assange said he had not had any fresh air or sunlight for three years.

He said: “There are security issues with being on the balcony. There have been bomb threats and assassination threats from various people.”

Political asylum

The Australian was granted political asylum by Ecuador under the 1951 Refugee Convention in 2012.

Swedish officials said recently they were optimistic about reaching an agreement with Ecuador which could pave the way for the questioning of Mr Assange in London on outstanding accusations against him.

Last month, prosecutors dropped cases of alleged sexual misconduct against the 44-year-old but they say they want to question him about accusations of rape made after his visit to Sweden five years ago.

Justice ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Riddselius said talks between Swedish officials and their counterparts in Ecuador had been "very good, very constructive" and could lead to a general agreement on legal co-operation "in time for Christmas".

Mr Assange has said he would welcome being questioned at the embassy.

Press Association