For the past three years, London's Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has maintained a 24/7 presence outside the Ecuadorean embassy in an attempt to arrest Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange for questioning over sexual assault charges. It's been a costly operation: the force admits it's already spent more than £9 million (over £10,500 a day) in the hope that the controversial privacy activist will give himself up. Now, it appears, the Met has had enough -- it's removed police guards from the embassy altogether.
In a statement issued today, the Metropolitan Police said that "it is no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence" outside the embassy. After discussions with the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it will "deploy a number of overt and covert tactics" instead of continuing its very visual approach.
Assange was arrested on a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) in December 2010. When the Supreme Court issued an extradition order against him in May 2012, he entered the Ecuadorean embassy in London in hopes of gaining asylum. It took three months for Ecuador to grant him his wish and he has remained there ever since.
Last summer, the man himself revealed that he would leave the embassy "soon," after it was reported he was suffering from health issues. However, there has been no further word on when he is expected to depart.
"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," says the MPS. "[We have] 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."
Obviously, the Met won't discuss the extent of its covert operation, but insists it will do whatever it can to arrest Assange. One solution could be to conduct additional surveillance, which doesn't cost as much as physically stationing someone outside of a building. After all, it has a commitment to millions of other Londoners. "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."
[Image credit: Espen Moe, Flickr]