Andrew’s return less likely than ever after nightmare new yearon January 7, 2024 at 1:49 am

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The problems for Prince Andrew from his association with disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein show no signs of going away.

Prince Andrew in 2017 (file pic)Image source, Getty Images

For Prince Andrew, it’s been a terrible 2024 so far. Awful headlines, being reported to the police, demands for him to lose his Windsor home. That’s just this week.

At Christmas he was basking in the glow of the Royal Family, appearing before the public after a Sandringham church service. Back in the fold.

But a few days later he was appearing in the much harsher light of US court documents about sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Much of the information in the unsealed court papers was already known – but once again it raises the long, embarrassing shadow of his involvement in the circle of the disgraced financier. What was he doing with these people?

Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts

Image source, US Department of Justice

It’s more than four years since Prince Andrew stepped down from royal duties. But if anything he now seems further away than ever from any prospect of rehabilitation and a return to public life.

“This underscores the fact that this hasn’t gone away despite the new reign and will continue to tarnish this generation of the royals,” says Anna Whitelock, professor of the history of the modern monarchy at City, University of London.

This week Prince Andrew faced a wall of hostile newspaper front pages calling for his removal from royal life.

Anti-monarchist group Republic reported him to the police about allegations in the Epstein files, saying there was “no clear justification for taking no action”. But the Metropolitan Police says it is not launching an investigation.

And if anyone has forgotten the excruciating Newsnight interview, Netflix is soon turning it into a film, which once again will have people talking about not sweating and pizzas. He’s gone from a working royal to the Woking royal.

Virginia Giuffre arriving for hearing in the criminal case against Jeffrey Epstein, at Federal Court in New York, U.S., August 27, 2019.

Image source, Reuters

None of this is a good look for the wider Royal Family and will make any future public appearances with Prince Andrew even more difficult.

“There is no doubt that King Charles would have probably hoped for a better start going into 2024,” says royal commentator Prof Pauline Maclaran.

“This is especially so because there have been rumours that he was feeling sorry for his brother and trying to rehabilitate him a little. If the rumours were true, I imagine King Charles may be seeing this latest news as quite a big setback,” says Prof Maclaran of Royal Holloway, University of London.

There have been calls for the King to apply financial pressure on Prince Andrew to move out of his home in Royal Lodge in Windsor. But the prince has a long lease with the Crown Estate and has shown no signs of wanting to budge.

Many of the allegations in the court papers have been heard and denied before – such as the claim that “Jane Doe 3”, believed to be Virginia Giuffre, was “forced to have sexual relations” with Prince Andrew in London, New York and the US Virgin Islands.

But what’s emerging from the files, which are still being released in batches, is an impression of the sheer scale of the contacts between Epstein and Prince Andrew.

This includes the claim by Juan Alessi, who managed Epstein’s residence in Florida, that Prince Andrew “spent weeks” at the Palm Beach mansion having daily massages.

Also significant is the testimony of Johanna Sjoberg, who provides an independent witness to Prince Andrew being with Virginia Giuffre, who later sued and settled with Prince Andrew in a civil sex assault claim.

It challenges Prince Andrew’s assertion in his Newsnight interview that: “I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.”

Prince Andrew, left, and Jeffrey Epstein in New York's Central Park

Image source, News Syndication

The setting described by Ms Sjoberg was Epstein’s house in New York in 2001, where she alleged Prince Andrew had touched her breast, in a bizarre moment involving Ms Giuffre and a puppet of Prince Andrew owned by Epstein’s associate, Ghislaine Maxwell.

“They decided to take a picture with it, in which Virginia and Andrew sat on a couch. They put the puppet on Virginia’s lap and I sat on Andrew’s lap, and they put the puppet’s hand on Virginia’s breast, and Andrew put his hand on my breast, and they took a photo,” says Ms Sjoberg’s deposition.

Her testimony lasted several hours, recalling events from 15 years before, and when quizzed on where they were sitting in Epstein’s house, she said: “Whether we were on a couch or a chair, I just remember the boobs part, the hand on the boobs.”

Prince Andrew, who has not commented on these latest documents, has consistently rejected any suggestions of wrongdoing.

When Ms Giuffre brought her civil case against Prince Andrew one of the most important pieces of evidence was the photo of Ms Giuffre, then aged 17, with Prince Andrew and Maxwell in London.

The whereabouts of the original version of that famous photo, taken in 2001, seems even less clear from these court papers.

Ms Giuffre faced detailed questioning about it. “It was probably in some storage boxes,” probably in Australia where she had moved, but she wasn’t sure where, she told lawyers.

The FBI had been in possession of the photograph in 2011, she told lawyers, but it had then been returned after they had made copies. Last year, the FBI declined to comment to the BBC on what information they might hold about the picture.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, New York, 2005

Image source, Getty Images

Ghislaine Maxwell’s testimony also shows that Prince Andrew had visited Epstein’s private Caribbean island.

That had been previously confirmed by the prince, but royal author Ed Owens says even though so far there are “no major new allegations”, it still has a negative impact to see these repeated connections between Prince Andrew and Epstein.

It was awkward company for a prince. Epstein died in jail in 2019 facing charges of running a “vast network” of underage girls for sex. In 2022 Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sex trafficking offences.

In terms of what comes next, expect more calls for Prince Andrew not to be treated differently from anyone else or to be seen as being above the law.

But it’s worth remembering that the court documents are not a “list” of people involved with Epstein.

These are names that appear across hundreds of pages of testimonies, emails and travel documents, gathered for a defamation case brought by Ms Giuffre against Maxwell in 2015.

There are no suggestions that being mentioned implies any wrongdoing, with the names including a mix of business associates, victims, friends, employees and celebrity connections.

Both sides in the case were trying to discredit their opponents, with claim and counter-claim about fabricating stories, and a battle of wills comes through the legal papers.

“You are refusing to answer the question,” a lawyer says to Maxwell after a series of brittle exchanges about what she’d seen of Epstein being given sexual massages.

“Let’s move on,” says Maxwell.

“I’m in charge of the deposition. I say when we move on and when we don’t. You are here to answer my questions,” snaps back the lawyer.

The case was settled in 2017 without any of the allegations being tested in court, so these remain claims rather than findings, and Prince Andrew has always strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Ms Giuffre’s lawyer welcomed the latest court papers, but suggested more needed to be done for victims.

“The public interest must still be served in learning more about the scale and scope of Epstein’s racket to further the important goal of shutting down sex trafficking wherever it exists and holding more to account,” said Sigrid McCawley.

Prince Andrew

Image source, Reuters

Public opinion has not been sympathetic to Prince Andrew. Polling firm YouGov has shown him to be consistently the least popular royal, with the most recent figures showing only 8% of people in Britain have a favourable view of him.

There’s also not much sign of sympathy within royal circles. Sources have suggested that Prince William in particular had opposed Prince Andrew taking part in public parts of the annual Order of the Garter procession.

Royal insiders have also seemed irritated that Prince Andrew hasn’t seemed to have shown any contrition or to have got involved in charities or good works, which might be seen as the classic way back.

The prince could argue that he remains entirely innocent of any of these claims so he has no reason to show remorse.

Buckingham Palace no longer comments on behalf of the prince, as he’s no longer a working royal.

However, in a previous statement about links to Epstein, the palace had said that Prince Andrew “deplores the exploitation of any human being and the suggestion he would condone, participate in or encourage any such behaviour is abhorrent”.

But the road back to public life must never have seemed steeper.

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