Assange backers must pay £93,500 over skipped bail

Nine people who put up bail of £140,000 for the WikiLeaks editor must forfeit most of it, a court has ruled, since Assange refuses to surrender to British police.

Nine supporters of Julian Assange have been ordered to hand over £93,500 in guarantees lost after the WikiLeaks editor skipped bail.

The nine, who include a Nobel prize winner and a veteran investigative journalist, put up £140,000 in bail sureties for Assange, who decamped to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in June to avoid extradition to Sweden.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange gives a statement from the Ecuadorian embassy in London on 19 August. Image: Z Whittaker/C Osborne

Those supporters must now pay thousands of pounds each by 6 November, chief magistrate Howard Riddle ruled on Monday. The judge said he had taken into account the financial hardship some of them would face, as well as their "integrity", and would not ask them to pay the full forfeit.

"In declining to publicly... urge Mr Assange to surrender himself, they have acted against self-interest," Riddle said in his ruling at Westminster Magistrates' Court. "They have acted on their beliefs and principles throughout. In what is sometimes considered to be a selfish age, that is admirable."

The group of backers, which includes leading scientist Sir John Sulston, journalist Phillip Knightley and Frontline Club founder Vaughan Smith, first pledged bail for Assange in December 2010.

Since then, the WikiLeaks founder has fought a long legal battle against being taken to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual coercion , fearing he will be deported from there to the US to face charges relating to the leak of thousands of sensitive US diplomatic cables .

Last week, Smith went up before the magistrates' court on behalf of all nine supporters, to make the case they should keep all of the money they put up for bail. He argued that the case has become an international matter and is no longer able to be influenced by individuals.

"We never envisaged when we became sureties that the matter would become a diplomatic argument, and it is clear that this needs to be resolved at diplomatic level," he told the court, according to The Guardian.

Riddle said he accepted the backers had acted in good faith and had expected Assange to hand himself over when called on by the police. "However, they failed in their basic duty, to ensure his surrender," he said.

Under his order (PDF), Caroline Evans, Knightley and Sulston must all pay £15,000; Smith and Sarah Saunders, £12,000; Tricia David, £10,000; Tracey Worcester, £7,500; Joseph Farrell and Sarah Harrison, £3,500.