Buckingham Palace has been forced to defend Prince Andrew over sex abuse allegations as news outlets revealed a secret deal allegedly designed to protect the fifth in line to the UK throne from prosecution in the US.
The Duke of York returned to the UK from the Swiss ski resort Verbier on Sunday amid allegations he had had sexual relations with a teenage American girl, named Sunday as 30-year-old Virginia Roberts, when she was under the legal age of consent.
Roberts told a court in Florida she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew multiple times by disgraced US multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein. Her claims are part of a wider case against Epstein, who is accused of “loaning out” the then-teenager to his friends and associates.
Epstein was jailed for 18 months in 2008 for seeking sexual relations with an underage girl.
It was revealed Sunday, however, that the businessman struck a “non-prosecution” deal that saw him confess to relatively minor charges in exchange for dropping more serious charges in Florida.
The agreement also allows any “co-conspirators” of Epstein to avoid future “criminal charges,” which means that even if allegations against the British royal were proven, he and any other of Epstein’s acquaintances would be immune from prosecution in the US.
Breaking its usual silence, Buckingham Palace wrote to media editors on Sunday asking them to remember their responsibilities under the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s code and the law.
Palace lawyers were also reportedly reviewing the coverage and “assessing the legal position” with respect to the weekend papers.
The Palace also issued a statement from aides, who categorically deny the claims made against Prince Andrew. The prince himself also issued a vehement denial whilst on vacation in Verbier, calling the allegations “false and without any foundation.”
The statement from Buckingham Palace aides called the allegations “lurid and deeply personal,”saying they had broken the usual “no comment” reaction to “come out and say it’s not true.”
“The Duke did not want these claims to go uncontested,” the statement said.
“Commenting on a member of the royal family’s private life or commenting an ongoing legal case goes against what the palace would do typically.”
“The default position is no comment but these are extraordinary circumstances and given the allegations filed in court and coming from the Sunday papers, the decision was taken that it was time to issue a denial on the record,” the statement added.
More than 40 of Epstein’s alleged victims have spoken out since his initial prosecution, and even the attorney originally responsible for the secret “non-prosecution” deal appears to back the latest case.
In a letter from 2011, attorney R. Alexander Acosta said the new information could have altered the outcome of Epstein’s trial.
“Many victims have since spoken out, filing detailed statements in civil cases seeking damages. Physical evidence has since been discovered. Had these additional statements and evidence been known, the outcome may have been different,” he said.
Local news source the Palm Beach Daily News further said the secret agreement “did not serve the best interests of the victims.”
In a further development Monday, the father of Virginia Roberts said she had been flown to London by Epstein, where she had reportedly spent time with Prince Andrew. According to her father, the visit also included a trip to visit the prince’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
Buckingham Palace said it had no record of any such meeting.