Prince Andrew returned to work in the UK today as he attempts to ride out the storm over his friendship with disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
The Duke of York has been at a golf retreat in Spain for the last two weeks – during which time Epstein’s alleged victims have made a court appearance in the US, with one urging him to ‘come clean’ over his past.
Andrew has faced repeated allegations that he had sex three times with a 17-year-old Virginia Roberts, who is now a 36-year-old married mother of three called Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
He strenuously denies the allegations of ‘impropriety with underage minors’, branding them ‘categorically untrue’ and his friends have suggested he is the victim of ‘witch-hunt’.
Today, Andrew returned to official royal duties, overseeing celebrations at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta in Devon, of which he is a patron.
Prince Andrew looked in high spirits as he returned to official royal duties at the Royal Dartmouth Regatta in Devon
He made his first public appearance since the accusers of Jeffrey Epstein appeared in court, with one taking aim at the Duke
Andrew is patron of the Royal Dartmouth Regatta, which takes place every year in the south Devon town
His appearance came as an astonishing photo emerged of him with Donald and Melania Trump and Epstein at an an event at Mr Trump’s Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago in Florida in 2000.
Also in the photo is Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of helping Epstein procure underage girls for sex.
Virginia Roberts, who was at that time working as a ‘towel girl’ pool assistant, has claimed that a few months later Maxwell recruited her to become a sex slave for Epstein.
Maxwell denies involvement in the crimes of Epstein and her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Andrew returned from Spain on Wednesday after a two-week golfing retreat in Sotogrande with his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson as the scandal involving Epstein intensified.
A royal source told The Sun: ‘Andrew and Fergie flew back together on Wednesday. He knows he has to come back and face the music.
‘The optics were not a good look, with so many stories about the Epstein accusers while he was on a sunny golf course in Spain.
‘He’s having a series of talks with advisers this week about how to salvage his reputation going forward. Fergie remains entirely committed to him.’
Donald and Melania Trump, Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein (in the background) and Ghislaine Maxwell are pictured together at Mr Trump’s resort at Mar-A-Lago in February 2000
Mr Trump and Melania pose with Prince Andrew at the same event. Andrew was Epstein’s guest at Mar-a-Lago, and has come under increasing scrutiny as a consequence of the allegations made against Epstein
Donald Trump is pictured with his then-girlfriend Melania Knauss, Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, on February 12, 2000
The Duke of York has been keeping a low profile in the luxurious development of Sotogrande and playing golf at Valderrama, where he was pictured last Thursday
Epstein, who was facing federal sex trafficking charges, died behind bars earlier this month in what the coroner ruled a suicide.
But his death, rather than draw a line under questions surrounding his friendship with the world’s rich and famous, have increased scrutiny of the extent of his contact with Prince Andrew and Donald Trump.
Epstein’s visits to Mar-a-Lago in the 1990s and early 2000s are well documented, but at some point, long before Mr Trump became President, the pair fell out and he was banned from the resort.
Mr Trump said last month: ‘Yes, he and I did have a falling out a long time ago. The reason doesn’t make any difference, frankly.
‘But I haven’t spoken to him in probably 15 years or more. I wasn’t a big fan of Jeffrey Epstein, that I can tell you.’
Miss Roberts, through her attorney, has said that Mr Trump never had sex with her or any other underage girls that she is aware of.
But the now 36-year-old accuser has said that Epstein forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was just 17.
Her allegations, which Andrew denies, were struck from US civil court records in 2015 after a judge said they were ‘immaterial and impertinent’.
Buckingham Palace has branded the allegations ‘false and without any foundation’ and said ‘any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors’ by the duke was ‘categorically untrue’.
Virginia Roberts was photographed with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell in early 2001
Yesterday it was revealed lawyers for Epstein’s victims were considering bringing a lawsuit to pressure Andrew to give evidence in the long-running scandal.
David Boies, chairman of a high-profile New York law firm, said the prince was ‘continuing to delay and obfuscate’ over repeated claims he had sex with one of Epstein’s teenage victims.
Mr Boies urged Andrew to agree to an informal interview, as it would be the best way for him to ‘advance his interests’ if he ‘really has nothing to hide’.
The lawyer said he has asked to interview the prince and is willing to travel to London to make the process more comfortable for him.
But if this does not happen, Mr Boies said he would consider bringing a lawsuit to pressure him and other associates of Epstein to give evidence under oath.
Virginia Roberts (centre, in blue) arrives at a court in Manhattan, New York, on Tuesday with her lawyer David Boies. She sued Epstein in 2015 claiming she was held as his sex slave
Should Andrew ever set foot in the US again, he could be ambushed with a subpoena. This would oblige him to give evidence on oath – or face the threat of jail.
‘One of the options is to bring a lawsuit,’ Mr Boies said. ‘I think we and other counsel in the US are exploring what the options and possibilities are. I hope we don’t have to go down that road but we’d be willing to consider it.’
Mr Boies represents a number of women who say they were abused by Epstein when they were teenagers.
One of those is Miss Roberts, who claims that she had sex with Andrew on three occasions when she was 17 years old.
She is now a 36-year-old married mother-of-three called Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
Miss Roberts is one of 16 women who told a Manhattan court on Tuesday of their alleged abuse at the hands of Epstein and his friends.
The friendship between Prince Andrew (left) and Jeffrey Epstein (right) goes back to least 1999. They are pictured walking together through Central Park in New York in December 2010
The prince has strenuously denied having ‘any form of sexual contact or relationship’ with Miss Roberts and has attempted to downplay his friendship with Epstein, who is suspected of killing himself in jail earlier this month at the age of 66.
However, he has failed to answer continued questions about his behaviour, particularly his frequent visits to Epstein’s many homes across the US.
‘If he would sit down and let everything come out, and just come clean, this is the time to do it,’ Mr Boies told Sky News.
‘Continuing to delay and obfuscate, I don’t think really is in his interest, because this is not going away.
‘It’s very hard to take the position that you were close and friendly [with Epstein] and you were treating the mansion as your home away from home, yet you were totally unaware of what was going on.’
Mr Boies said there ‘has to be an explanation’ as to why Andrew attended so many of Epstein’s parties and why he was photographed grinning broadly with his arm around the bare midriff of Miss Roberts in 2001.
Friends of the duke have insisted his lawyers have ‘serious doubts’ about the veracity of the picture – and say he is at the centre of a ‘witch-hunt’.
But Sigrid McCawley, who also represents Miss Roberts, said: ‘The FBI has never questioned its authenticity. Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs also place Virginia in London at the time the photograph was taken.
‘Prince Andrew’s denials with the help of misinformed friends and unnamed sources who have no real knowledge of the facts are getting louder.
‘But those atmospherics do not change the evidence and the facts. The bumper-sticker denials Prince Andrew employs will gain him nothing when all the evidence is made available.’
Epstein, pictured in a prison mugshot in 2017
Buckingham Palace aides told the Mail this week that the duke would be willing to help authorities if approached.
One courtier said: ‘Members of the Royal Family would always co-operate with the police in an appropriate way.’
However, this does not mean that he would be willing to be interviewed by lawyers for Epstein’s victims.
Last week it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had decided not to investigate claims first made in 2015 that the prince had sex with Miss Roberts.
But the FBI is investigating both the claims against Epstein and the circumstances around his death.