The Metropolitan Police has announced it will remove the dedicated officers who have guarded the Ecuadorian Embassy 24 hours a day, seven days a week while WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange seeks asylum inside.
The 44-year-old has been holed up inside the building since 2012 in a bid to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face sexual assault charges. He believes that once he is in Sweden, he will be extradited again to the US where he could face espionage charges following the leaking of thousands of classified documents on his WikiLeaks website.
Police have had officers stood outside the embassy for more than three years to arrest Assange should he set foot outside. A website dedicated to working out the cost of the police operation to British taxpayers estimates it has cost more than £12m ($18.4m) to pay for the policing operation guarding the embassy while Assange has been inside.
Following a review, the Met Police has now decided to withdraw the physical presence of officers from outside the embassy as it is "no longer proportionate to commit officers to a permanent presence". Police assured the operation to arrest Assange will "continue and should he leave the embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him".
A spokesperson added: "While no tactics guarantee success in the event of Julian Assange leaving the embassy, the MPS will deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him.
This decision has not been taken lightly, and the MPS has discussed it with the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
"A significant amount of time has passed since Julian Assange entered the embassy and despite the efforts of many people, there is no imminent prospect of a diplomatic or legal resolution to this issue. The MPS has to balance the interests of justice in this case with the ongoing risks to the safety of Londoners and all those we protect, investigating crime and arresting offenders wanted for serious offences, in deciding what a proportionate response is.
"Like all public services, MPS resources are finite. With so many different criminal, and other, threats to the city it protects, the current deployment of officers is no longer believed proportionate."