Although his name was barely mentioned, Prince Andrew’s presence hovered uneasily over every moment of Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial.
Twice it came up, and on each occasion it offered a tantalising glimpse of both his folly and breathtaking lack of judgment.
He was named by a pilot as one of the passengers flown on sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet, the so-called ‘Lolita Express’, with all its unsavoury undercurrents.
And ‘Jane’, one of the anonymous girls who claimed she was groomed by Maxwell to be abused by Epstein, said she had been on the plane with the Prince.
For his part, Andrew has admitted he flew on the plane but insists he never saw anything untoward.
As disturbing as the courtroom disclosures undoubtedly were, it was the emergence of a photograph of Maxwell cuddling up to Epstein on a bench at the Queen’s picnic cabin at Balmoral — issued by the prosecution — that electrified proceedings.
Since only the closest of friends are invited to the royals’ Scottish estate, the fact that Andrew welcomed the pair into this most private of inner sanctums seemed to prove beyond doubt just how intimate they all were.
The infamous photo of Virginia Roberts, Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell was taken at Maxwell’s home in Belgravia
Prince Andrew leaves sex offender Jeffrey Epsteins home and go for a stroll together through New York’s Central Park. Taken in 2011
Of course, it is not the only photo haunting the 61-year-old Prince.
There is another picture of similar vintage to the Balmoral one, but in this one it is Andrew who is centre stage.
It shows the then 41-year-old Duke of York with his arm snaking around the bare midriff of teenager Virginia Roberts while his friend Maxwell smiles alongside them.
According to her lawyers, the gamine Miss Roberts was the prize offered up by Epstein to Andrew the night the photograph was taken.
For the Prince, who strenuously denies that claim and her allegations that they had sex — which she says they did on three separate occasions — the snapshot has, for years, been a millstone.
He says he cannot recall the photograph, nor ever meeting the then 17-year-old. During his disastrous Newsnight interview in 2019, he told Emily Maitlis: ‘I have absolutely no memory of that photograph ever being taken.’
Yet today the photo takes on an even more troubling new meaning. Consider how it might now be captioned.
From right to left, ‘the sex trafficker, the ‘sex slave’ and the Duke’. And the figure behind the camera? The predatory paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
It was the emergence of a photograph of Maxwell cuddling up to Epstein on a bench at the Queen’s picnic cabin at Balmoral — issued by the prosecution — that electrified proceedings
Kevin Maxwell, Christine Maxwell, Isabel Maxwell, and Ian Maxwell, the brothers and sisters of Ghislaine Maxwell, arrive at US Federal District court house
In an instant everything and nothing has changed for Andrew. His hopes of salvation and evading the legal action mounted by Miss Roberts — who has filed a civil case in New York claiming he abused her — rests on a hearing to be held next Tuesday.
She has accused Andrew of ‘rape in the first degree’, that he forced her to have sex with him three times in 2001: at Maxwell’s London home (scene of the midriff photo); in New York at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion; and on the late financier’s Caribbean island.
But with the resolution of the Maxwell case, prosecutors may well feel emboldened to go after others — not only those, like Maxwell, who supplied girls for Epstein’s gratification, but also the alleged beneficiaries; the men (and they were mainly men) with whom he shared his pleasures.
They may want to prove no one is above the law. A request from the FBI to interview the Duke as a witness has been gathering dust.
Little wonder, then, that the highly expensive team of lawyers Andrew has assembled in London and the U.S. has been monitoring the Maxwell case closely.
Dozens of references were made to Virginia Roberts — placing her at Epstein’s properties, on his aircraft and her close contact with Ghislaine.
Flight logs produced by the prosecution put Miss Roberts in London on the March 2001 weekend she says she had sex with Andrew for the first time in Maxwell’s Belgravia mews home. Something the Duke has insisted ‘didn’t happen’.
Lawyer David Boies (L) and Brad Edwards (R) speak to the press along with alleged victim Annie Farmer after a bail hearing in US financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sex trafficking case
The repeated references to the Duke’s accuser placed her at the centre of Epstein’s ‘pyramid’ of sexual abuse.
They appeared to corroborate her account that she was an underage victim of the paedophile, recruited by Maxwell and flown all over the world.
Photos found after a 2019 FBI raid on Epstein’s New York mansion and shown to the jury included a topless image of Miss Roberts.
But Roberts was not called as a prosecution witness. When, days before the case began, it was announced that Miss Roberts, who now uses her married name Giuffre, would not be taking the stand, no official reason was given.
But in London ‘Team Andrew’ welcomed the news, with a source telling us: ‘As the most high-profile and vocal accuser . . . one might have expected Ms Giuffre (Roberts) to be the star witness.
‘However, the fact she is not to be called can only lead one to conclude that her increasingly inconsistent accounts make her a less than credible witness.’
For months, Andrew’s lawyers have accused Miss Roberts of being unable to get her story straight.
In recent salvos, the Duke’s legal team pushed for her lawsuit to be thrown out, branding her claims ‘ambiguous at best and unintelligible at worst’.
And just this week they filed a five-page motion saying the New York court does not have jurisdiction over Miss Roberts’s claims because she is pretending to be a U.S. resident while actually living in Perth, Australia, with her husband and children.
Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell sits as the guilty verdict in her sex abuse trial is read in a courtroom sketch in New York City
For Andrew, brought up in a family where planning and judgment are benchmarks of success, his mix of arrogance and foolishness has been a catastrophe.
Ever since that BBC interview he has been a pariah, stripped of his purpose as a working royal. Removed from charities and honorary military posts, he has been sequestered largely at Royal Lodge, his home in Windsor.
Forced to avoid public discourse, only once have we heard from him, and that was following Prince Philip’s death, when he paid tribute to his father.
When he has emerged, to ride in Windsor Great Park or behind the wheel of a Range Rover, he has looked careworn, paunchy and middle-aged.
At times it has been hard to reconcile this Prince with the ‘Randy Andy’ figure who emerged from the ruins of his ten-year marriage — although it had actually ended years earlier — and embarked on a series of affairs that were, inexorably, to lead him into the path of Maxwell and, ultimately, Epstein.
The late 1990s were a golden time for the footloose and fancy-free Andrew. After Fergie, he had dated a string of professional, mainly middle-class women, younger than him certainly, but by no means as young as Virginia Roberts.
This photo of Jeffrey Epstein in front of one of his private planes was submitted into evidence during the trial of his alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell
Frequently in New York, he ran into an old friend whom he had first met when she was an undergraduate at Oxford University.
Glamorous, chic and with an enviably packed contacts book, Ghislaine Maxwell had one other thing in common with the Queen’s second son: an aversion to media scrutiny.
He, anxious to avoid being pictured with any new love interests; she, building a new life after fleeing to New York at the start of the decade after the body of her fraudster father was recovered from waters off the Canaries.
By then, of course, Maxwell had found security in the form of Epstein, a new sugar daddy.
According to prosecutors, she began to transition from girlfriend to managing the billionaire’s domestic and office staff from the mid-1990s onward.
She also brought her transatlantic address book into play, widening Epstein’s social circle and introducing the wide-eyed Andrew.
A sleazy haul of never-before-seen photos unearthed in an FBI raid and introduced as evidence showed Ghislaine Maxwell giving Jeffrey Epstein foot rubs on his private jet dubbed Lolita Express
Many say that Andrew was out of his depth, not just financially but also socially, in the glitzy world Ghislaine Maxwell inhabited.
Pictured at a February 2000 party at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago country club in Florida, to which he had been brought by Maxwell and Epstein, the Duke looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Not only did Andrew meet the future president and Melania, Trump’s future third wife, he also chatted to sex-aid entrepreneur Christine Drangsholt, who began promoting her business with pictures of herself and the Duke.
Alarm bells were beginning to ring at Buckingham Palace. Was the Prince, courtiers asked, having a mid-life crisis? Or were these the opening moves in a Cold War-style honey trap which would bind Andrew so tightly to Maxwell and Epstein he has never been able publicly to disavow them?
Meanwhile, the fun continued. Not long after Florida, Maxwell was introducing her royal friend to other characters from her demi-monde life at a New York club, where patrons were dressed as hookers and bondage freaks.
Fellow guests included lingerie model Heidi Klum, sporting a black PVC dress, viciously spiked dog collar and wrist restraints.
Ghislaine, dressed in gold trousers and a blonde wig, explained: ‘I’m a hooker tonight. We are going on to another party with a pimps and prostitutes theme.’
In a few short months Andrew had embarked on a lifestyle in which he appeared to be rediscovering his youth in the playgrounds of the Eurotrash.
It didn’t matter to him: he was apparently hooked by the wealth and reach of these new friends and the doors they could open.
The relationship between Andrew, Epstein and Maxwell, meanwhile, intensified. After all their hospitality, he shared some of his with them.
They were his guests at Royal Ascot and, infamously, at the Queen’s ‘Dance of the Decades’ party at Windsor Castle, a gala to mark the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday, Princess Margaret’s 70th, Princess Anne’s 50th and Andrew’s 40th.
Later that year, the Prince threw open Sandringham for his friends, with a shooting party to mark Ghislaine’s 39th birthday. And don’t forget that Balmoral visit.
By now, Maxwell was also introducing him to attractive women and encouraging his relationships with, among others, PR Emma Gibbs and South African model Heather Mann.
Camera crews and onlookers were seen outside of the Manhattan courtroom after the guilty verdict in the sex abuse trial Maxwell
Indeed, Maxwell, Epstein and Andrew appeared to have evolved a curious symbiotic relationship. Whenever Ghislaine was seen with Andrew, Epstein was never very far behind.
Both of them were there when Andrew was photographed on a yacht in Thailand in 2001, surrounded by sunbathing topless young women.
In his only public comment about this three-way relationship, Andrew told the BBC: ‘Remember that it was his girlfriend [Maxwell] that was the key element in this. He was the . . . plus one.’
Now, with his own case only days away, his focus is to reassure the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family that the vast investment of his mother’s money on his defence has been well spent.
Family members have been left in the dark about the Prince’s strategy, but understandably Andrew wants to protect the monarch from any damaging fallout from the Maxwell case.
In one regard he was right: he had promised the trial would throw up no new brutal shocks.
He may, however, reflect that, while friendship and loyalty are compelling allies, they are sometimes made at the expense of common sense. But will he?