Police will no longer be stationed outside the Ecuadorean embassy in London where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has sought refuge since 2012, the Met Police has said.
Officers had been there since Mr Assange sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden over a rape allegation, which he denies. The cost of the police presence is estimated to have been more than £12m.
The Met said the round-the-clock presence was “no longer proportionate”. However the force also said it would be deploying “a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him”.
It also said that “resources are finite” and there were “so many different criminal, and other, threats to the city”. “The Metropolitan Police Service 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,” it added.
The Australian sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden, because he feared he would then be sent to the US and put on trial for releasing secret US documents. The UK has paid for policing around the embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, for the past three years. Mr Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador in 2012, under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
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.
Assange assault claims: Key dates:
- August 2010 – Swedish Prosecutor’s Office issues arrest warrant for Mr Assange over sex assault allegations, which he denies
- May 2012 – UK’s Supreme Court rules he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning
- June 2012 – Mr Assange enters the Ecuadorean embassy in London
- August 2012 – Ecuador grants asylum to Mr Assange, saying there are fears his human rights might be violated if he is extradited
- August 2015 – Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation into two allegations – one of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion because they have run out of time to question him. He still faces an accusation of rape and continues to deny the allegations
- Mr Assange has previously said he would welcome being questioned at the embassy.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The head of the Diplomatic Service, Simon McDonald, summoned the Ecuadorean Ambassador today [12 October] to register once again our deep frustration at the protracted delay.
“The UK has been absolutely clear since June 2012 that we have a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden. That obligation remains today.”