Police stop guarding Ecuadorian embassy, the refuge of Julian Assange

Natasha Christian with AFP

Permanent police presence has been withdrawn from outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has sought refuge since 2012.

In a statement, the Metropolitan Police Service said it intended to arrest Assange if he left the embassy.

Permanent police presence has been withdrawn from outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has sought refuge since 2012.
Permanent police presence has been withdrawn from outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has sought refuge since 2012.

Officers had been outside the embassy since Mr Assange sought asylum to avoid extradition to Sweden over a rape allegation, which he denies.

The estimated cost of the police presence is more than $25m AUD.

The police service felt the presence was ‘no longer proportionate’.

“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,” they said in a statement.

Mr Assange 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 documents.

The UK paid for policing outside the embassy in central London, for the past three years.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about a rape claim, which carries a 10-year statute of limitations that expires in 2020.

Assange, who faces arrest if he tries to leave the embassy, denies the allegation and insists the sexual encounter was consensual.

The Foreign Office said on Monday that the head of the diplomatic service, Simon McDonald, had summoned Ecuadorian Ambassador Carlos Abad Ortiz to insist on a resolution to the impasse.

The 24-hour guard outside the embassy in central London has cost British taxpayers more than STG10 million ($A20.92 million) the source of much criticism in austerity-hit Britain.

"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," police said on Monday.

"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," they added.

The 44-year-old Australian also fears that if he leaves he could eventually face extradition to the United States and a trial over the leak of hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

Swedish officials said in August that they hoped to reach a judicial cooperation deal with Ecuador by year's end that would pave the way for prosecutors to question Assange.

Britain made a "formal protest" to Ecuador over Assange in August through its ambassador in Quito.