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Norfolk man who gave Julian Assange refuge says embassy was 'worse than prison'

PUBLISHED: 18:44 14 April 2019 | UPDATED: 11:01 15 April 2019

Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, where he was found guilty of breaching his bail. Picture: PA Wire

Julian Assange leaves Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, where he was found guilty of breaching his bail. Picture: PA Wire

A Norfolk journalist who housed Julian Assange for 13 months has described the Wikileaks founder's seven years in the Ecuadorian Embassy as "worse than prison".

Vaughan Smith leaves the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, London, in 2010 after offering his estate as a bail address for Julian Assange. Photo: PAVaughan Smith leaves the City of Westminster Magistrates Court, London, in 2010 after offering his estate as a bail address for Julian Assange. Photo: PA

Vaughan Smith, 55, was the first person to offer Mr Assange, 47, refuge at his Ellingham Hall home near Bungay after the Australian journalist was released on bail following accusations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden.

Mr Assange spent 13 months living with Mr Smith from December 2010 before he asked for protection from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, as he believed he would be extradited to the United States for his role in publishing secret American documents.

Mr Assange was arrested on Friday after spending seven years at the diplomatic base.

Mr Smith said: “For the last six months I have visited him every two weeks with some friends just to give him social interaction. He saw very few people every day and just needed to be contacted. He found the solitude on the weekends to be particularly difficult.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at Ellingham Hall. Picture: Nick ButcherWikileaks founder Julian Assange at Ellingham Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher

“He is very mentally and physically robust but he has lost a lot of weight and in the last year the Ecuadorians have tried to push him out.”

Mr Smith said the Ecuadorians took away Mr Assange's internet access, put cameras in every room, reduced him visiting rights and did not let him talk to the press.

“They applied pressure to make it worse,” said Mr Smith. “It was worse than prison, with no outside space or social life – but he is a fighter.”

Ecuador's foreign minister José Valencia says the embassy kicked him out after he damaged the building by riding his skateboard and playing football, insulted workers and used a phone not registered with the embassy.

Ellingham Hall. Picture: ArchantEllingham Hall. Picture: Archant

But Mr Smith said it was unlikely to be true and added: “He didn't do any of those things when he lived in Ellingham Hall. It is propaganda.”

Mr Smith first met Mr Assange at a talk in Washington in relation to the release of the video Collateral Murder, which showed a US Apache helicopter firing on civilians and reporters.

Later, Mr Smith said: “He knocked on my door and asked if he could give a press conference. Then he went to prison for two weeks based on sexual misconduct allegations. I was the only one in the courtroom who had a property suitable, as any London property would not have been possible because of the press interest. He wouldn't have been able to go outside, near a window, so I volunteered.”

Westminster Magistrates' Court found Mr Assange guilty of breaching bail, for which he faces up to a year in prison.

He is due to face a hearing over his possible extradition to the US on May 2.

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