Epstein case: duke under pressure

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Labour has called for the Duke of York to give evidence to US investigators over his links to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Barry Gardiner, the shadow trade secretary, said testifying under oath was “the right thing to do”, while another Labour frontbencher called Prince Andrew “a disgrace” for lacking empathy for Epstein’s victims.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are trying to stay out of a growing backlash over an interview in which the duke failed to express any sympathy for the victims of the billionaire paedophile.

The royal, 59, was even said to have told the Queen that his appearance on the BBC Two Newsnight special was a success, despite criticism of an interview in which he said he had “no recollection” of having met Virginia Roberts (now Virginia Giuffre), the woman who claims that he had sex with her three times when she was 17.

A source said that the duke believed the interview would end “the sniping and the commentary”. He “categorically” denies the allegations against him.

Boris Johnson avoided questions on the issue this morning after giving a speech to the CBI, saying: “I won’t get dragged into commentary regarding members of the royal family, if you don’t mind.”

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, said it would be “completely inappropriate” to comment on the case, but pressed on whether the duke should co-operate with US investigators told Today on BBC Radio 4: “I’m never going to comment on individual cases but certainly everybody would want to see victims protected and everything done possible to ensure that those who have suffered from harassment and bullying should be protected.”

However, asked the same question Mr Gardiner replied: “I hope very much he will. I believe that if this interview was intended to be open and transparent then it should be focused on the victims, it should be focused on justice for those victims of Jeffrey Epstein and anything that Prince Andrew can do in order to further that by saying what he knows of the time he spent with his former friend can only be the right thing to do.”

A lawyer for three of Epstein’s victims, Spencer Kuvin, told The Times that the duke’s denials of complicity in Epstein’s crimes would increase interest in the allegations against him. He faced renewed calls to submit to US questioning. “Prince Andrew isn’t a man people are afraid of,” Mr Kuvin said.

Last night, Jack Dromey, the shadow pensions minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the duke “showed no empathy whatsoever for the victims of Epstein” and “should be utterly ashamed of himself”. Mr Dromey added: “I thought it was utterly disgraceful and to be absolutely frank, he is a disgrace.”

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, described being “quite dismayed” by the duke’s comments about sex during the interview. She said the part that “really troubled” her was when he spoke about sex being a “positive act” for a man.

“Do you not think it’s a positive act for a woman? Because having sex is a positive act for both parties involved in it, whether you’re a man or a woman,” Swinson told the LBC radio station. “Because if it’s not a positive act, if it’s not a positive choice, that’s not sex, that’s rape.”

Senior lawyers said that the prince was not immune from prosecution or extradition to the US to face allegations that he had sex with an underage girl. The age of consent in Florida is 18.

Anna Rothwell, a lawyer at Corker Binning, said that despite being eighth in line to the throne, he “is not entitled to any form of immunity by virtue of his position as a member of the royal family”.

Ms Rothwell said that because the prince’s friendship with Epstein was under investigation by the FBI he was “vulnerable to extradition”.

She added that it had been “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”.

The prince suggested that the photograph of him and Ms Giuffre together was a fake and countered claims of a sexual encounter on the evening in question by claiming that he had been at a Pizza Express in Woking.

He also said that claims he had worked up a sweat while dancing with Ms Giuffre at the nightclub Tramp could not be true because he suffered from a condition that meant he did not sweat, the result of being shot at during the Falklands war.

The prince also said he did not regret having been a friend of Epstein, who died in an apparent suicide in jail after being arrested for sex trafficking minors.

A source has told The Times that Amanda Thirsk, the duke’s private secretary who encouraged him to do the interview and whose thinking is known to be closely aligned to the prince’s, believes that the interview was “incredibly raw”.

The source added: “She thinks people will appreciate that he was open and honest, and answered every question. At least it is all out there for people to judge. The sniping and the commentary can now stop. At least he put everything out there.”

Palace insiders, while taken aback by the reaction to the interview, believe that it will only be possible to judge its impact after the dust has settled. Meanwhile, they are bracing themselves for several days of negative publicity.

Unconfirmed reports said that the duke told the Queen, who went to church at the Chapel of All Saints, Windsor Great Park, that the interview went “pretty well”. Other reports said that he told her it had been a success.

Emily Maitlis writes in The Times today that the interview, which was filmed in the South Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, only went ahead after the Queen had given her approval.

The duke’s performance, in which he told Ms Maitlis that he visited Epstein in 2010 to break off their relationship and stayed for four days because “it was a convenient place to stay”, has been roundly condemned.

The fallout from the interview will overshadow the Prince of Wales’s tour of New Zealand this week. Prince Charles is unlikely to be pleased if his tour, which also takes in Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, gets less coverage as a result of his younger brother.

Dickie Arbiter, the former palace press spokesman, described the interview as “excruciating”. He told the BBC that it raised important questions for Buckingham Palace.

“They will be wondering: Was the right decision made? Who made the decision to put him on? Did he make it himself or did he seek advice within the palace?

“My guess is that he bulldozed his way in and decided he was going to do it himself without any advice.

“Any sensible-thinking person in the PR business would have thrown their hands up in horror at the very suggestion that he puts himself up in front of a television camera to explain away his actions and his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.”

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