Assange is well - but in need of fresh vegetables, says Westwood


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The Independent Online

Dame Vivienne Westwood has ended speculation about the ill health of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, following her visit to him at the Ecuadorian embassy last week.

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, the punk fashion designer said that Assange looked well when she met him on Tuesday night, with his worst ailment appearing to be a need for fresh vegetables. The news comes as his bail sureties struggle to gather funds for payment in time for a court deadline in 10 days' time.

Assange, who has been granted political asylum by the government of Ecuador, is seeking to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over claims of sex offences. He fears being handed over to the United States over the activities of his whistleblowing website. Westwood's assurances on Assange's well-being come after Ecuadorian Vice foreign minister Marco Albuja Martinez told Russian reporters on Tuesday that Assange had "grown noticeably thinner", and that they were "very concerned about his health".

Westwood said: "When I went to see him I realised the best thing I can do is get people to bring lots of raw vegetables that he can grate up and eat. I took him some booze and he said 'that's what everyone brings me, but what I'd really like is an apple or something'. He's eating those dreadful microwave meals. I took him a bottle of red wine because that's my favourite."

Ecuador has asked the British Foreign Office for a document that would enable Assange to enter hospital safely if necessary and return to the embassy with refugee status. Westwood said: "He's well and I think the embassy is just being sensible. They want to know what they would do if anything goes wrong with his health."

Dame Vivienne described Assange as a "real hero," adding: "He's a very brave man. He's a noble adventure figure like Robin Hood."

Since Assange skipped his bail terms and sought asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, those who provided sureties are now having to pay up. Following a negotiation over the "exceptional case", the amounts demanded have been reduced, but Assange's high-profile backers still have to pay £93,500 within the next 10 days or face jail.

Sarah Saunders, a chef whose East Sussex cottage Assange shared in the latter part of his house-arrest, says she will have to empty out her savings to pay the £12,000. "It's all my savings. My children are all grown up but it does have an effect on what I can do for the rest of my life."

Saunders says she has been ordering Assange to improve his nutrition. "I'm worried about his health. Living in such a confined space without fresh air is worrying and he does look pale. I've organised for some high nutrition food and given him some recipes."

Vaughan Smith, who owns the Norfolk manor house where Assange originally stayed, will have to pay £12,000. Though significantly less than the £20,000 he pledged, the request for money has still come as a shock. He said: "It's not money I have in the bank - I'll have to borrow it. We will clearly feel it. Over the summer because of the Olympics we didn't get the trade in the restaurant and then farming hasn't been doing very well because of the weather, so my situation isn't as good as it might have been."

"It feels pretty unfair because the situation is political - everyone knows where he is. I don't think we could've predicted what happened - we made a risk assessment based on the fact that he didn't have a passport and was highly recognisable," he said.

Philip Knightly, an investigative journalist who outed the spy Kim Philby, now owes £15,000. He said: "I know that some of us are going to find it difficult. People will have to cut expenses in other areas, but I don't think it's going to bankrupt anybody."