London Assembly Questions on costs for Assange Embassy siege and Answers May and June 2015

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On the 30th of April 2015 I wrote to several London Assembly members raising the issue of surveillance outside the Ecuadorian Embassy by Metropolitan Police that effect a siege on Julian Assange.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe answered on the 21st of May London Assembly questions about the cost of the Julian Assange Ecuadorian Embassy police siege operation, ongoing for almost three years. He explained that none of the cost had actually been reduced.

Transcript:

JoanneMcCartneyAM(Chair):I want to come to you now, if I can, about police officer overtime. I know there was an ambition to reduce this. It actually looks like it is increasing. The MOPAC report we have states they are expecting it to increase to an overspend of£7 million by the end of March. That is the latest figure that we had. The explanation appears to be that the main pressures are in specialist operations of nearly £5 million where the high vacancy rate is covered by overtime. MOPAC reported that it would be managed by underspends elsewhere in specialist operations’ budgets. I am trying to get a sense of where that overtime is coming from. Is it from particular areas where there is real pressure, and what are you doing about those?

Craig Mackey QPM (Deputy Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): There are two things.
Literally we are in closing accounts at the moment. It will probably seem slightly strange from the report you have got, but we actually underspent by £2.9 million in the year.
Joanne McCartney AM (Chair): On overtime, OK.

Craig Mackey QPM (Deputy Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): Somethings are not
reconciled in that report, and do not get reconciled until they close the report. You probably remember there was a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) conference last year at which we provided a very large and considerable resource in terms of mutual aid. That income line is now shown against it. Some of the counter terrorism work is actually covered by the grant funding from the counter-terrorism (CT) grant. You have got two big off -sets there in terms of that. Actually, the outturn at the end of the year was £2.9 million in the positive in terms of the pressures around it. Across TP -across the wider boroughs – certainly from the last figures I have got for the start of the year it is still going in the right direction in terms of the management of overtime and the work around it. Whilst we are very alive to the fact we could literally walk out of here and there will be another operational pressure, at the moment the overtime budget is not one of those ones that I am sitting worried about.

Joanne McCartney AM (Chair): I noticed in our briefing that you had a mutual aid reimbursement of £5.2 million.

Craig Mackey QPM (Deputy Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): Yes, that is the NATO one.

Joanne McCartney AM (Chair): The £1 million for the Ecuadorean Embassy has that fully–

Craig Mackey QPM (Deputy Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): Sorry, did you say
£1 million?

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): I cannot see the invoice.

Joanne Mc Cartney AM (Chair): Yes, I have got £1 million here or there is a pressure of £1 million.
Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): We have not been
reimbursed for it.

Jenny Jones AM (Deputy Chair): Not a penny?

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): No.

Joanne McCartney AM (Chair): Presumably you have asked?Perhaps I could ask the Deputy Mayor for  Policing and Crime about this.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): There are two things.
Clearly it is a great anomaly but it is an unusual set of circumstances. The broad argument against our claim is that the criteria for special grant, which is what we would be asking for, is 2% of budget. It has got to be a very significant sum before the Government will think about this and we have got a very big budget. We have a big budget and this is just flexing our resources around  royal and diplomatic protection. They are expected to protect the embassies and this is just another way of doing it. We are looking at whatever options we have to reduce that commitment but it is true to say we are getting no more money for it.

Jenny Jones AM (Deputy Chair): What about all the other things that you do that a lot of us would prefer you did not do, like protecting Tony Blair’s [former Prime Minister ] houses. You are cutting back on things like policing of demonstrations which is a democratic right by people like me–

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): What about us?
Jenny Jones AM (Deputy Chair):– and yet still paying for things like the Ecuadorean Embassy or
protection of houses that are not even lived in and so on. It is not very balanced, is it?It is an unbalanced situation.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM (Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service): It is an unusual situation which I acknowledged. As you know, starting out with Tony’s [Blair] question trying to make comparisons across a big organisation is that fair? It is invidious to make some comparisons is my first point. In terms of protection of individuals and places we get specific grant, whether it be Parliament, Number 10, individuals. To be fair, these people are public figures who, where there is a genuine threat, deserve protection. That is why we do it. We do not do it because there is a theoretical threat. There is an actual one and every threat is assessed. There is a tripartite arrangement for that. We only get the funding for that protection if there is a
threat. It is not, “You had that role therefore you must be protected”. Everyone is assessed. Over the years, that has come down although, as we know, over the last year threat levels have gone up generally. That has got to be acknowledged. In terms of this embassy obviously it is a unique situation. You have got someone who a country wants a to extradite. They have a legitimate warrant to do that. The person they want, and we want to arrest on behalf of that warrant, has diplomatic protection not by their personal status but by the building in which they are. They have been there for a long time. The embarrassment factor for us would be if they got out and wandered off and we could not arrest them when we have known all the time where they are. That is the thing we are trying to manage. I had hoped we could manage it with less people.

Joanne McCartney AM (Chair): Thank you.

End of Transcript

On June 17th London Assembly Member Jenny Jones asked again on my behalf:

What was the outcome of the review into options for the guard on Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy? Do you think that the decision by the Swedish Prosecutor to delay interviewing Assange at the Embassy for the last few years, has been fair on the British taxpayers, who have footed the bill for this stand off?”

And this is the answer she received from the Mayor of London:

The MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) remain under a legal obligation to execute the European Arrest Warrant, which has been issued for a serious criminal offence and continue to review options for policing the Ecuadorian Embassy with both the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. My Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime has made representations to the Home Secretary about this matter.

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Resources:

My letter of the 30th of April 2015 https://greekemmy.com/2015/04/30/a-question-for-the-london-assembly/
The London Assembly website: http://questions.london.gov.uk/QuestionSearch/searchclient/questions/question_282380#sthash.S3YxmElQ.dpuf