It’s not going away, is it?
The Panorama interview, "The Prince and the Epstein Scandal", demonstrated just how much trouble Prince Andrew is in – and will remain in for quite some time. Virginia Giuffre, formerly Virginia Roberts, the woman at the centre of the controversy, came across during her interview with Darragh Macintyre as a highly credible witness. She had not been heard from at any length before, and she is not going to shut up and go away. That matters.
At times she found herself in tears, finding it so difficult to explain how a young woman in a civilised society could be trafficked for sex. This is not some story about a poor girl from a poor country being loaded into the back of a van, trekked across Europe and smuggled over the English Channel, her passport confiscated and made to work in some filthy brothel. No, these young women, used and abused by Epstein – and there were dozens or more by the sounds of it – were recruited in Florida, and transported in private jets to mansions on private islands, to New York and Palm Beach Florida, to the best addresses in Manhattan and St James’, to glittering parties with the rich and famous.
Yet their plight was just as tawdry and distressing as any other sex slave. These astonishingly wealthy and powerful people acted as her “chains”, said Giuffre. Her account of one of the three alleged sexual encounters she had with the prince were matter of fact, but still deeply painful: “It didn’t last very long, the whole entire procedure. It was disgusting. He wasn’t mean or anything but he got up and said ‘thanks’ and walked out. I sat there in bed just horrified and ashamed and felt dirty. I had to get up and have a shower”.
Certainly she put on a more convincing performance than Prince Andrew did in his conversation with Emily Maitlis (the Giuffre interview was in fact recorded before that of Andrew). Of course that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that she is telling the truth; nor does it mean that he is. But if these serious allegations ever come to trial, and if ever the Duke of York is required to give evidence, or stand accused even, then such perceptions matter.
And that is exactly where this scandal is heading. It takes a leap of imagination to envisage the Queen’s second son being subjected to interrogation by the police, or a lawyer in a courtroom. It takes a still more radical thought process to see him in jail, doing time, this scion of the house of Windsor. Yet no one is above the law; members of the royal family do not enjoy immunity from the laws of this or any other land.
There is a grim inevitability about what is happening. Epstein may be dead, but his victims are not, and many of them are now seeking justice. The cases are going through the courts. The women involved who have bravely come forward seem prepared to do what it takes, and their lawyers are supporting them. They do not appear to be fantasists. Depositions have already been taken, and cases are being assembled. The FBI has been involved. The Metropolitan Police told Giuffre that they would not investigate her claims about events in London, but that may not stand.
Prince Andrew simply cannot isolate himself from these developments – no matter how much he tries and no matter how far back from a public role he places himself in the future. Giving up his Pitch@Palace project and other charity work, and becoming a “private citizen”, is not enough.
The prince himself has said, via a statement, that he is: “Willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required. The Duke has already stated that he did not see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest and conviction. He deplores the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behaviour”.
So even if we take him at his word, he will sooner or later have to undergo some questioning. It is yet another unprecedented moment in modern times for the House of Windsor.
The Panorama documentary asked some of the questions the prince will eventually have to confront. Why, for example, if he has “no recollection” of this person is she apparently named by him in an email sent as late as 2015? What is the exact truth about his supposed inability to sweat – a matter that has become an object of national ridicule? Giuffre discusses the great sweat mystery in lurid terms, from the time when he took her dancing at the nightclub Tramp: “I mean it was horrible and this guy was sweating all over me, his sweat was like it was raining basically everywhere. I was just grossed out from it but I knew I had to keep him happy because that’s what Jeffrey and Ghislaine would have expected from me”.
There is the important matter of questioning the evidence. Why does the housekeeper at one of Epstein’s properties testify that he had spent “weeks” there? What do the logs and travel records suggest about his movements? Is the photograph of him with the then Virginia Roberts and Ghislaine Maxwell real? Why does he cast some doubt on it? What was his relationship with Ghislaine Maxwell? Sooner or later, too, Maxwell will have to give an account of herself, and explain her role in the lives of the prince and the billionaire. She denies all the allegations made, and hinted at, against her. She should benefit from the presumption of innocence; equally she should offer to help, as the prince has, in any investigations about her former friend Epstein (she has not said that publicly thus far).
For now, Prince Andrew is indeed being placed on trial – trial by media – and it is not going very well for him. That matters because, as he acknowledges, albeit not fully, he has damaged the prestige of the monarchy as an institution. There is an unspoken, unwritten contract between the people and the crown: those who enjoy the privileges of their position must in return live up to their duties and responsibilities. Crises in the royal family come when their private lives fall short of such expectations, and the monarchy then finds itself rapidly out of favour with the public. The Queen herself has said that she can only reign with the consent of the people.
So the real question will be how the monarchy deals with the denouement of his affair. Never before has such a senior member of the family faced such a serious scandal. One day Prince Andrew may have to ask his mum for a pardon, as well as one from whoever happens to be in the White House at the time (possibly Epstein’s old acquaintance, Donald Trump).
It sounds fanciful, but then the more we learn about the life of Epstein, the less strange such things seem.