The man offering hospitality to Julian Assange over Christmas has admitted that he is risking his reputation by opening his home to an alleged sex offender whom he has known for only five months.
However, Vaughan Smith, the freelance cameraman who welcomed the WikiLeaks founder to his Georgian mansion on the Norfolk/Suffolk border yesterday, told The Times that any fears over security, and sleepless nights caused by inviting the world’s media to his impressive doorstep, would have to be tolerated as a matter of principle. “It is not the time [you spend together] on the battlefield that matters, but the depth of the trench,” Mr Smith said.
“We are not harbouring a fugitive. One person’s risk-taker is another person’s stalwart, and I have staked my reputation on someone, in what I believe is a principled stand.”
The founder of the Frontline Club, a members’ club in Paddington that champions independent journalism, admitted that he had lost sleep over the possible consequences of letting the activist, who is accused of sexually assaulting two women in Sweden, into his home. However, he said he was confident that Mr Assange, who denies the crimes, was innocent.
He insisted that if “there was any suggestion of sexual impropriety” he would not have invited Mr Assange to spend Christmas and New Year with his family. “I don’t think I’m naive,” said the former Captain in the Grenadier Guards. “I’m not always wise, but I am quite capable of making a sensible judgment.” However, he added: “I’m very sensitive to those who think I’ve got it wrong.”
The WikiLeaks founder spent his first day on bail yesterday holding court from Ellingham Hall, the Georgian manor that has been in Mr Smith’s family for 225 years. After nine days in solitary confinement, he said, he quite fancied going fishing.
But not before he accused the US Government of carrying out a secret and illegal investigation into the whistleblowing website. Mr Assange also claimed it was being attacked by banks in the US, Dubai, Switzerland and the UK. Individuals affiliated to WikiLeaks had been “detained, followed around, and had their computer seized”. The Australian said he would continue leaking diplomatic cables.
He has the full support of his wealthy host, a restaurateur and organic farmer who was shot twice during his 25-year career in conflict zones. Among the displays at the Frontline Club is the mobile phone that caught the bullet aimed at him while covering the Prekaz massacre in Kosovo and photographs commemorating journalist colleagues killed doing their job.
Mr Smith said he believed his guest was “immensely courageous”, but remained confident that he would not escape from the 650-acre estate. “Julian Assange is many things, but he is not a good map reader. He is not very topographically aware. If he runs off into the woods, I’ll find him.”
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