Biggest thing Beccles has seen since 'that bloke from The Bill'

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The Independent Online

It was a world away from the flashbulbs and fanfare which have greeted his previous appearances in Britain this week. Yesterday the quiet, and very cold, Suffolk market town of Beccles was Julian Assange's destination.

While his appointments in the courts of London have been attended by hundreds of supporters, yesterday Mr Assange only had to deal with the attentions of one fan who accosted his people-carrier at traffic lights to take a photograph.

The lady was rewarded with a smile and a thumbs-up. But Mr Assange may be crestfallen to learn that Kathleen, who refused to give her surname, had not braved the elements to catch a glimpse of the 39-year-old Australian.

"I was just popping up the road to get a prescription from the surgery," she explained. "I certainly didn't expect to bump into Julian Assange. I found out he was going to be in Beccles earlier this afternoon and I'd say it's probably the biggest excitement of the year."

The people of Beccles will have to get used to seeing the man wanted by Swedish prosecutors. While on bail he will make a daily six-mile drive from Ellingham Hall, home of journalist and founder of the Frontline Club, Vaughan Smith, to the police station where he must sign in.

Yesterday's trip began at 3pm when Mr Assange was driven in a navy Ford away from Mr Smith's home – where the staff of gardeners and handymen have been redeployed as makeshift security guards at the end of the driveway.

Arriving in Beccles 15 minutes later, he walked into the police station, saluting the few waiting photographers, for the briefest of visits. He had to keep to a tight schedule – the station at Beccles is only open between 2pm and 5pm.

Yesterday two amused police community support officers stood guard outside during Mr Assange's visit. Their duties extended to telling the few film crews present to stay off the road rather than holding back would-be assassins.

Any idea that the sight of Mr Assange might impress the locals appeared to be mistaken. The people of Beccles are used to rubbing shoulders with celebrities.

"That bloke that used to be on The Bill lives here," explained resident Sue Crowley. "You know the one, the guy with the silver hair, he's a real hit with the ladies. We've got him and a few other celebrities round here so I'm not really bothered about seeing Assange."

Indeed, she seemed almost annoyed that Mr Assange – and the attention that comes with him – had arrived in the tiny commuter town. "I moved away from London for a quiet life," she said. "And now look what happens. I know everyone says it about their town but, honestly, nothing ever happens in Beccles." She did add: "I think most people here probably support what he is doing and most people think that the rape charge is a bit of a red herring to try and throw him off the trail."

Not everyone in Beccles was so welcoming. Philip Cox, 60, knew exactly why there were journalists outside the police station.

"They're here for that Wikipedia bloke aren't they?" he said. "Wiki-Leaks, I mean. Well I don't think he should be doing that kind of thing. There are reasons why some things in this world are secret.

"And I'm not too keen on him being in Beccles. He is wanted in Sweden for a serious allegation. He should be over there, not here. Hopefully the attention around him will die down pretty quickly. He'll be here every day so we'll probably get used to it. "And I daresay he'll get used to living up in Ellingham Hall. It's certainly not a bad place to be. Oh yes, I'm sure he'll have a nice comfortable Christmas up there. Much more comfortable that the one he would have had behind bars that's for sure."