A NORTHUMBERLAND wedding venue has become the unlikely centre of global attention after being mistaken for the whereabouts of one of the world’s most controversial figures.
Ellingham Hall, a stately home near Alnwick in Northumberland, has been deluged with phone calls and hits to its website after Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange was bailed to a country house of the same name, but located on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.
The 39-year-old is wanted by prosecutors in Sweden over claims that he sexually assaulted two women.
But the Australian was given bail by a district judge in London on Tuesday having put up £200,000 as security, with a condition that he lives at Ellingham Hall in Bungay.
That has led to a hectic week for the exclusive wedding and corporate events venue of the same name in Northumberland.
Staff at the former country house home of Aidan and Helen Ruff have been run off their feet answering phone calls from people under the mistaken belief that it was Assange’s bail address. And they have received scores of emails from people in the United States, France, India and elsewhere including one purporting to be from the Russian Secret Service.
The venue’s website, which could normally expect to receive 100 to 150 hits a day at this time of year, instead welcomed 4,000 on Thursday, and 1,500 by 10.30am yesterday. In total, it has received 7,500 this week.
Bosses blame the fact that a Google search for Ellingham Hall throws up the Northumberland venue as the first result.
Staff last night put a notice on the hall’s website pointing out that they are not housing Assange.
Mr Ruff said: “Since the release on bail of Julian Assange earlier this week, Ellingham Hall – the Northumberland one – has seen a rising number of calls and e-mails, varying from those who support in Mr Assange’s self-styled crusade to expose internal Government reports through to downright cranks.
“We have even received emails purporting to be from the Russian Secret Service. Our website hits have gone from a few hundred a day into many thousands.
“In a marketing sense, this would be wonderful, but our phones have been ringing off the hook as well and we only have two wonderfully efficient ladies taking calls as well as dealing with the weekend’s preparations and I’m worried that this might cost us legitimate business.
“We are a small rural business and a couple of dozen families rely on us for their livelihood and Christmas. We’ve managed to keep going through the awful, extreme weather through the hard work of our staff.
“I don’t want a freedom of information vigilante to bring us down.
“We’re just trying to make an honest living, and deliver our brides and grooms the dream weddings they want. We’re not interested in bringing down governments or world domination.”
Event co-ordinator Jenny Stevenson added: “The last thing we want is anyone turning up looking for him when there are weddings on.”