Duke of York ‘stands by decision’ to answer Epstein questions

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The Duke of York stands by his decision to be interviewed about his involvement with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and spoke with “honesty and humility”, sources have told the BBC.

Andrew has faced a barrage of criticism following his television appearance where he discussed his friendship with the disgraced financier – with the royal accused of a lack of empathy with Epstein’s victims.

The duke’s attempt to set the record straight about his relationship with the convicted sex offender – and counter allegations he slept with one of Epstein’s groomed teenagers – has been widely condemned for its unsympathetic tone and lack of remorse for the friendship.

The Duke of York , speaking for the first time about his links to Jeffrey Epstein (Mark Harrison/BBC)

The BBC has reported sources close to the duke as saying he stands by his decision to be questioned by the BBC’s Newsnight programme, wanted to address the issues head on and they feel he did so with “honesty and humility”.

But commentators are questioning Andrew’s decision to speak in depth for the first time about the allegations and his 10-year friendship with Epstein, with one calling it an “appalling lack of judgment” and another saying his responses lacked conviction.

A legal expert said being a member of the monarchy did not give the duke a get out clause from being prosecuted in the US, and he was “unwise” to have given a detailed account of his actions to the media.

Andrew’s former spin doctor Jason Stein reportedly left his job at the palace a few weeks ago after advising the duke not to go ahead with the Newsnight interview.

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry said the duke’s interview for a special Saturday edition of Newsnight was not “very empathetic” with the teenage girls preyed on by the disgraced financier.

Her words were echoed by Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, who said she was “quite dismayed” watching the interview.

Ms Swinson, interviewed on the LBC radio station by presenter Iain Dale, said: “What I found hard to watch was the victims in this affair are those young women and girls, some of whom are much older, who had been sexually abused, trafficked by Epstein and the experience that they had was traumatic.

“And in a sense for somebody to be talking about it without really referencing that, without understanding that, without reaching out to understand that pain and how they must have felt, I just thought was strange to see.”

Ms Berry, Speaking about the royal family’ accountability, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I think they need to be accountable as anybody else. And I think it’s right that he has answered these questions on the interview, although I wasn’t particularly convinced, I think we need to have more from him on this as well.”

She added: “It wasn’t a very empathetic interview, if that’s an okay thing to say, with the victims, and I think he should have been more apologetic…”

During the interview, Andrew, questioned by Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis, twice stated his relationship with Epstein, who died in jail while facing sex trafficking charges, had some “seriously beneficial outcomes”, giving him the opportunity to meet people and prepare for a future role as a trade envoy.

The duke denied he slept with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s victims, on three separate occasions, twice while she was underage, saying one encounter in 2001 did not happen as he spent the day with his daughter Princess Beatrice, taking her to Pizza Express in Woking for a party.

The Pizza Express restaurant in Woking (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The same alleged sexual liaison, which the American said began with the royal sweating heavily as they danced at London nightclub Tramp, was factually wrong as the duke said he had a medical condition at the time which meant he did not sweat.

He cast doubt on the authenticity of a picture that appears to show Andrew with his arm around the waist of Mrs Giuffre, when a teenager.

The royal said: “… from the investigations that we’ve done, you can’t prove whether or not that photograph is faked or not because it is a photograph of a photograph of a photograph. So it’s very difficult to be able to prove it but I don’t remember that photograph ever being taken.”

The duke said the whole episode had not been damaging to the Queen, only to himself, and that the wider royal family “couldn’t be more supportive”.

He expressed regret at making contact with Epstein in 2010 – flying to New York to say in person the friendship was over – after the 66-year-old had been released from an 18-month prison term for prostituting minors.

But Maitlis highlighted how he spent a number of days with him at his home, and how he was guest of honour at a dinner party she said celebrated Epstein’s release.

Jeffrey Epstein (New York State Sex Offender Registry/AP)

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that in the wake of the interview, Andrew could find himself out of the core royal family, if reports are correct that the monarchy will be slimmed down when the Prince of Wales becomes king.

She said: “It was a very probing interview he’s not used to being questioned in that way and I think he seemed unable to really answer her questions with any conviction, I think myself and most other people think that the interview was a mistake.”

Ms Seward added: “I think the Duke of York is very anxious to carry on with the work that he’s doing, but of course he’s totally smeared by this Epstein business and until that is dealt with I think he’s going to find it very hard to carry on as normal.

“He will of course, because that’s what people do, but I think it’s always going to be in the background.”

She went on to say: “I think if there’s a slimmed down monarchy I very much feel Andrew won’t be a huge part in it.”

Anna Rothwell, from criminal law firm Corker Binning, said: “Prince Andrew is not entitled to any form of immunity by virtue of his position as a member of the Royal family. His friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is under investigation by the FBI and he is vulnerable to extradition.

“It is therefore very unwise for the prince to give any account to the media, especially one which so starkly exposes the closeness of his relationship with Epstein, and again betrays yet another appalling lack of judgment.”

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said the duke’s interview spoke for itself.