15 Dec 2010

Why I have offered Julian Assange a place to stay’

Journalist Vaughan Smith tells Channel 4 News why he offered a bail address to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, after his second appearance in court.

Vaughan Smith (Getty images)

The appeal against granting bail to Julian Assange will be heard tomorrow at the High Court, according to officials. Assange spent another night in prison yesterday, after Swedish authorities contested the decision made at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

Assange was arrested in Britain for allegations of sex crimes in Sweden, which he denies. If the bail decision is upheld, he will have to be electronically tagged, report to police daily and observe a curfew until a further hearing on 11 January. Supporters also agreed to give £200,000 to the court as surety.

The Judge ruled that Assange must live at the Suffolk home of journalist Vaughan Smith, who told Channel 4 News why he offered the WikiLeaks founder his home. “I felt the need to take this position because I want to see that Julian Assange gets justice”, he said.

I think that Julian holds up a mirror that journalists like myself can look into, and perhaps we don’t always like what we see, Vaughan Smith

“I am a journalist and a former soldier. I am not uninformed about these matters. I expect I am going to get some flak, but my wife agreed with me about offering him a place to stay. I have children living with me, and Julian gets death threats. But I have complete confidence that the police will protect the address if they need to.

“I got to know Julian well over the last five months. As a journalist, I felt it is important to take a position on this issue. I think that Julian holds up a mirror that journalists like myself can look into, and perhaps we don’t always like what we see. I think journalism is getting closer to power and to the establishment than we have realised.”

The court’s initial decision was overturned after just two hours, when Swedish authorities appealed. Assange had to return to Wandsworth prison while his legal team prepared for another court battle to secure his release on bail.

“(Being in court) did give me greater confidence in the British justice system”, Vaughan Smith told Channel 4 News. “I am just concerned by the reaction of the Swedish courts. If a British court has sat twice and decided to give someone bail, it doesn’t look good to immediately appeal it.

“Although the issues raised by the arrest warrant are very contentious, I think it is helpful for people who think they can take a public position to do so. I do think that the revelations from WikiLeaks will help us to be better governed in the long-term. And I have not spoken to anyone in a while who thinks we are well governed.

“In Britain, we believe we are a tolerant society, and I think our tolerance is judged by the manner in which we deal with people we don’t necessarily agree with, as well as those we do. When we are dealing with something controversial, we have to be even more careful that we behave in the tolerant way that many in our country feel we should be.

“People who feel strongly about this need to declare themselves. We need to find a resolution to this enormous challenge Julian Assange has presented us with, whatever we think of the individual.”

Vaughan Smith went to Afghanistan for Channel 4 News. You can watch his report about being embedded with the Grenadier Guards here