Prince Andrew: KPMG not renewing sponsorship of Duke of York's scheme

Lucia Binding, news reporter

Accountancy firm KPMG is not renewing its sponsorship of Prince Andrew's Pitch@Palace initiative, Sky News understands.

It had been a founding partner of the Duke of York's start-up mentorship scheme for entrepreneurs.

The company's decision comes after Prince Andrew was asked on a TV programme about his links to the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison earlier this year, and allegations that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl.

KPMG's sponsorship ended at the end of October and a decision was made not to continue it. The company has declined to comment.

A spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said: "KPMG's contract with Pitch@Palace ended at the end of October. A full programme of Pitch@Palace events is continuing across the United Kingdom."

Another partner of Pitch@Palace, AstraZeneca, said: "Our three year partnership with Pitch@Palace is due to expire at the end of this year and is currently being reviewed."

Established in 2014, Pitch@Palace has seen Prince Andrew promote entrepreneurs, which in turn allows them to connect with other people in business, who, as the duke said, "could help their business dreams become a reality".

In another development, the Outward Bound Trust said it is reviewing the prince's patronage of their charity at an additional board meeting this week.

Sky News' royal correspondent Rhiannon Mills said Saturday's TV interview "was meant to push aside the scandal involving Jeffrey Epstein - instead it seems that it is going to have an adverse effect on some of the work he was hoping to focus on".

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The Duke of York's unprecedented interview on the BBC Newsnight programme was the culmination of years of statements from Buckingham Palace, and was intended to dispel increasing scrutiny of his relationship with Epstein.

However it was widely criticised, with viewers and analysts describing the hour-long interview as "disastrous", "excruciating" and like "watching a man in quicksand".

Several have focused on his reply to being asked whether he had sex with Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, then aged 17, after allegedly meeting her at a nightclub in London in 2001.

He said he had been at a Pizza Express restaurant in Woking with his daughter Princess Beatrice that day and had spent the evening at home.

Roberts-Giuffre says she was trafficked by Epstein as a teenager and then forced to have sex with the billionaire's friends - including Prince Andrew - when she was 17.

During the interview, the duke said he did not recall ever meeting Ms Roberts-Giuffre, adding: "I can tell you categorically I don't remember meeting her at all."

The prince also said he had "absolutely no memory" of a photograph of him with Ms Roberts-Giuffre at Ghislane Maxwell's London home in 2001.

The duke said he has travelled to Epstein's mansion in New York in 2010, after Epstein's release from jail, with the intention of ending their friendship.

But he has been criticised for staying at the mansion for what was reported to have been four days.

He said: "It was a convenient place to stay... at the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do but at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do."

According to a Sky News poll, just 6% of the public believe Prince Andrew's explanation of his friendship with Epstein.

Meanwhile students at the University of Huddersfield have said they will vote on a motion to lobby Prince Andrew, who has been its chancellor since 2015, to resign amid backlash over the duke's interview.

The president of Huddersfield Students' Union, Emmanuel Haruna, said: "As part of our processes to give students a voice, a student has put forward a motion to lobby Prince Andrew to resign as chancellor."