''HE WOULD be bullied and the only real saviour in life … was this computer. His mother, in fact, encouraged him to use the computer and at some stage she realised that it had become an addictive instrument to him at a very early age.''

A 1996 court case in Melbourne - details of which were released for the first time yesterday - reveal the beginnings of Julian Assange's fascination with the power of computers.

Now 39, the WikiLeaks co-founder is one the world's unlikeliest celebrities, after taking on the US government by releasing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables.

He is now in London awaiting extradition proceedings to Sweden to answer rape charges.

The transcript of the 1996 case, when Assange faced charges of computer hacking, was released to The Age yesterday. What that transcript also shows is a young Assange not afraid to speak up to authority.

Raised by his mother, Christine, the young Julian Paul Assange attended more than 10 schools and failed his HSC after trying to complete it by correspondence.

His mother bought him his first computer when he was 13 or 14.

''That computer, in effect, became his only friend and his only interaction with the outside world,'' his lawyer, Paul Galbally, told the Victorian County Court in December 1996, depicting his client as having been a lonely teenager.

The charges came five years after Assange hacked into computer servers belonging to RMIT, Northern Telecom, the Australian Telecommunications Corporation and the Australian National University.

Assange pleaded guilty to 24 offences before Judge Leslie Ross, who said the crimes were ''quite serious'' and ''troublesome behaviour''.

''The intrusion into these computers was quite extensive, it carried with it the potential to cause particular harm, I thought,'' the judge said.

Then of Ferntree Gully, Assange was the ''ringleader'' of a small organisation of three - himself and two co-accused, described by the prosecutor as being ''looksee'' hackers whose motive was ''simply an arrogance and a desire to show off computer skill''.

In 1991, the band of three hacked the various computer systems and together compiled International Subversive, an instructional magazine on how to hack and how to phreak (illegal use of telephone systems). It was distributed only among themselves.

Mr Galbally told the court that one of Assange's motives was ''by leading onto these major computer sites it gave you the power and enabled you to move from one site to another''.

But even then, as Mr Galbally said, Assange had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve. In 1993 he had set up an internet site for people to access his computer programs, one of which was Best of Security.

To his 5000 subscribers, he produced bulletins about security and provided computer software with it. ''He is clearly a person who wants the internet to be able to provide material to people that isn't paid for and he freely gives his services to that,'' Mr Galbally said.

Assange was released on a three-year recognisance order of $5000 and with a compensation order of $2100 to the Commonwealth.

Judge Ross said that if the hacking had been for personal gain, a jail sentence would have been the only option, but he declined to release Assange on a bond without conviction. ''I think offences of this kind ought to be a mark on his record.''

But as Judge Ross concluded his sentence, Assange spoke up, declaring: ''Your honour, I feel a great misjustice has been done.

''I would like to record the fact that you have been misled by the prosecution in terms of the charges … and a number of other matters.''

His outburst was rebuffed by Judge Ross, who told Assange he ''would be well advised'' to sit down behind his lawyer and keep quiet.

''No, you have pleaded guilty, the proceedings are over.''