High-profile supporters of fugitive Julian Assange have lost the £200,000 they gave for his bail, it was revealed yesterday.
WikiLeaks supporters including socialite Jemima Khan paid thousands of pounds each as security to help its founder get bail while he fought extradition to Sweden over accusations of rape and sexual assault, which he denies.
The cash was forfeited when he broke his bail conditions and fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he remains, to ask for asylum. Nine other supporters now face losing a further £140,000 offered as a ‘surety’ for his bail unless they can persuade him to hand himself over to the police.
Assange, 41, entered the embassy in Knightsbridge on 19 June after losing the final stage of his appeal against extradition.
Another handful of celebrities including Socialite Jemima Khan, Journalist John Pilger, Film Director Ken Loach, and Publisher Felix Dennis have already lost the £200,000 they stumped up between them to help free him before he was bailed.
They lost this money at a hearing in July when a judge ordered it to be forfeited.
The nine backers who were today fighting to save their money are retired Professor Tricia David, Nobel prize-winning Biologist Sir John Sulston, who helped unravel the human genome, former Sunday Times Journalist Philip Knightley, Lady Caroline Evans, wife of former Labour minister Lord Evans, his personal friend Sarah Saunders, a Catering Manager, Frontline Club founder Captain Vaughan Smith, who provided his Norfolk Country Mansion as a bail address. They all offered £20,000 sureties.
Marchioness Tracy Worcester, 53, the Model and Actress turned Environmental Campaigner, offered £10,000 while his Wikileaks Assistants Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison, both stumped up £5,000 in return for his freedom.
Today, lawyers at Westminster Magistrates Court argued the nine sureties could not have 'talked him out of it' as it was a 'fait accompli' by the time they realised Assange was jumping bail.
Support: Celebrities including socialite Jemima Khan, left, journalist John Pilger, film director Ken Loach, right, publisher Felix Dennis have all confirmed they stumped up cash as security to help free Assange
At the beginning of the hearing, Judge Riddle said it found it 'absolutely striking' that none of the nine had attended court in person.
Henry Blaxland QC, representing four of the sureties, said Vaughan Smith, who owns the Frontline Club where Assange has been staying, is making a documentary with the British Army in Afghanistan, while Lady Caroline was on holiday in Italy.
Judge Riddle said: 'One can understand somebody is in Afghanistan, somebody else on holiday.
'But we have no explanation from the others.'
Earlier, the judge threw out an attempt by Mr Blaxland to have today's hearing adjourned indefinitely until the situation had been resolved.
The barrister earlier argued the court needed to hear the 'extent to which there is fault on behalf of the sureties.'
THE PRICE OF SUPPORTING ASSANGE: BACKERS SET TO LOSE
1. Professor Tricia David - £20,000
2. Lady Caroline Evans - £20,000
3. Joseph Farrell - £5,000
4. Sarah Harrison - £5,000
5. Philip Knightly - £20,000
6. Sarah Saunders - £20,000
7. Vaughan Smith - £20,000
8. Sir John Sulston - £20,000
9. Tracy Worcester - £10,000
He continued: 'The extent to which there is fault is open for debate. The purpose of this Jurisdiction is not to punish - sureties themselves may often be blameless - but simply it's a power of the court to ensure a person on bail attends.'
Mr Blaxland said there was 'no evidence any of the sureties are to blame for Mr Assange's failure to surrender.
Bail: Assange in the grounds of the Norfolk home of Vaughan Smith which he offered as a bail address
'His decision was entirely unforeseeable,' he said.
'It was an extraordinary thing to do. Nobody could reasonably have foreseen that's what he would do.
'The anxiety was not that he would take the steps that he did but that he might abscond in the conventional sense, or go into hiding.
'The police were put in an impossible position - although they knew exactly where he was, and although they knew he had breached his conditions of bail, they were essentially powerless to act.
'Short of persuading Mr Assange to abandon the course he had embarked upon, the sureties were in the same position. They are also in an invidious position in the peculiar circumstances here.'
Giving evidence from the witness box earlier, Det Sgt Mel Humphreys said Assange entered the Embassy the day before a ten-day period was to begin during which he could be extradited.
Asked by Mr Blaxland why he had not arrested Assange, he replied: 'Police Officers do not go storming into an Embassy. I do not go into an Embassy uninvited.'
The Officer said he had sent a letter demanding Assange surrender to police custody to his bail address, his Solicitors, and to the Embassy, but the Wikileaks founder had refused.
When he sought asylum Assange was subject to bail conditions of living and sleeping each night at Ms Saunders home in Kent, report each day to a police station, and adhere to an electronically tagged curfew between 10pm and 8am.
The 41-year-old Australian has been holed-up in the South American Embassy for 12 weeks today and faces immediate arrest if he leaves as the Foreign Secretary has refused to ensure him safe passage out of the country.
Assange has vowed to stay inside the tiny room in Knightsbridge for as long as it takes for Sweden to drop the allegations of sexual assault against two women in Stockholm in 2010.
He claims to fear he will be extradited on to America because of his role in leaking thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables and military files.
He sought asylum just days after Britain’s highest court, the Supreme Court, refused to reopen his appeal against extradition. He was expected to be extradited within two weeks but could have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
While he remains inside the embassy he is beyond the reach of the authorities.
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