Assange swaps Victorian jail for rural mansion

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The rural Georgian mansion where Julian Assange must live while on bail will make a nice change from his current home in London's Wandsworth jail.

The 39-year-old WikiLeaks founder is expected to leave jail later Thursday or Friday after a High Court judge rejected an appeal to keep him in custody while he fights extradition to Sweden to answer allegations of sex crimes.

One of a string of bail conditions imposed on him by the court is that he live at Ellingham Hall, on a 600-acre in Suffolk, eastern England, which belongs to wealthy supporter Vaughan Smith.

He must also wear an electronic tag, adhere to a curfew and report regularly to police.

Despite the restrictions, Assange's time at the mansion promises to be a far cry from his stay at the Victorian-era Wandsworth prison, where he has been since being arrested on a Swedish warrant on December 7.

With ten bedrooms and 600 acres (240 hectares) of private parkland near the north Suffolk town of Bungay, Ellingham Hall boasts its own lake, an organic farm and a cellar reportedly well stocked with wine and port.

Smith is a former British army officer and journalist who founded the Frontline Club, a media club in London where WikiLeaks has based part of its operation. Assange lived at the club for several weeks this year.

Asked outside the High Court Thursday what will happen when Assange gets to the mansion, the balding 47-year-old told reporters: "I may be tempted to bring a bottle of champagne but I think we will have stew and dumplings."

Smith said earlier this week that he was supporting Assange because he represented freedom of the press, adding: "He's a friend of mine, I trust him, I don't think he will break his bail."

Assange is fighting attempts to extradite him to Sweden, where prosecutors want to question him about allegations of rape and molestation by two women in Stockholm in August. Assange has strongly denied the claims.

The court's decision to grant him bail Thursday follows a ten-day battle by his legal team to get him released.

For much of his time at Wandsworth, he has been kept in isolation and in what his lawyers condemned as "Dickensian" conditions. They said he was not able to communicate with the outside world, nor was he allowed a laptop.

At Ellingham Hall, Assange will live in a basic room on the upper floor which has no Internet access, according to The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

© 2010 AFP

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