London: Scotland Yard has run up a “ludicrous” bill of £6 million (Dh37 million) patrolling outside an embassy in London since Julian Assange sought refuge there two years ago.
Police are stationed day and night outside the Ecuadorian Embassy, racking up £1million in overtime alone, as they wait to arrest the WikiLeaks founder, who claimed asylum as he faced extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations.
Figures released under freedom of information laws show that it has cost £5.9million for the stakeout since the Australian-born human rights activist skipped bail and fled to the embassy in June 2012, where he has vowed to remain.
Critics now say police should seriously consider letting him walk away as there appears to be no end in sight to the standoff.
Baroness Jenny Jones, deputy chairman of the London Assembly police and crime committee, said the rising bill was an extraordinary burden on the taxpayer to extradite a man who has committed no offence in Britain.
The money spent trying to arrest Assange would be enough to fund an additional 120 police officers on the streets of London for a year. “It is ludicrous,” she said. “I have been asking the Met questions about this because clearly at the moment the cost is falling on the London taxpayers as a net police cost.
“I have been asking if the government is going to pay. The Met is apparently trying to claim back some of the money, but of course it is still the taxpayer who is paying for it.”
Baroness Jones said “evading justice is not right”, but pointed out that Assange “could stay there for years”. She added: “It is absolute madness. Either somebody else has to pay - that is, the Swedish authorities - or we just have to back off and stop guarding the embassy.”
Assange, 42, whose whistleblowing website angered Washington by releasing thousands of US diplomatic cables in 2010, denies sexually assaulting two women in Stockholm in 2010 and insists the claims are part of a plot to put him on trial in the US over WikiLeaks.
He was arrested in Britain in December 2010 on an extradition warrant from Sweden. He jumped bail after losing the subsequent legal battle to avoid extradition and fled to the Ecuadorian embassy where he was later granted asylum. Because of its diplomatic status, police have no powers to enter it and arrest Assange. At least three police offices continually guard the premises in case he emerges. A back-up team is on standby nearby.
A police spokesman said: “The estimated total cost of policing the Ecuadorian embassy between June 2012 and the end of March 2014 is £5.9million, of which £4.9million is opportunity costs [officer pay costs that would be incurred in normal duties] and GBP1million additional costs [estimated additional overtime as a direct result of the deployments at the Ecuadorian Embassy].
“The total costs provided are an estimate based on averages as actual salary and overtime costs will vary daily.”