Prince Andrew has flown home from a holiday in Spain on a private jet to hold crisis talks with royal officials over his friendship with the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
The Duke of York had been on a two-week golfing retreat in Sotogrande with his former wife Sarah Ferguson as the long-running ‘sex slave’ scandal intensified.
Andrew, 59, returned to Britain on Wednesday before photographs emerged of him partying with the billionaire financier and President Donald Trump in 2000.
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 pictures showed the pair partying with Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of helping Epstein procure underage girls for sex, and Melania Trump.
They were taken in February 2000 at a celebrity tennis tournament at Mr Trump’s Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago in Florida, which saw Epstein bring Andrew as a guest.
Virginia Roberts, who was then a young towel girl, has claimed that a few months later Maxwell recruited her to become a sex slave for Epstein and his friends.
A royal source told The Sun of Andrew’s return this week: ‘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.
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 over sex allegations
‘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.’
Maxwell has previously denied involvement in Epstein’s crimes, and her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Epstein’s visits to Mar-a-Lago in the 1990s and early 2000s are well documented, but at some point he and Mr Trump fell out and he was banned from the resort.
The President 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.’
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
Virginia 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 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 ‘any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors’ by the duke was ‘categorically untrue’.
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.
Virginia Roberts was photographed with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell in early 2001
David Boies, chairman of a high-profile New York law firm, claims ‘there is too much evidence’ connecting the Duke to the paedophile financier ‘for the allegations to simply go away’.
He 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 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 killed 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. There is too much evidence here for the allegations to simply go away.
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
‘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 the authenticity’ of the photo.
‘The photograph of Prince Andrew grabbing 17-year-old Virginia Roberts’s waist in Ghislaine Maxwell’s townhouse is real,’ she 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.
Epstein, pictured in a prison mugshot in 2017
‘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.’
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.