PRINCE Andrew is facing intense scrutiny over his relationship with paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who recently hanged himself in his jail cell.
He has repeatedly dodged queries about their friendship, with one of Epstein’s victims recently writing a letter blasting his refusal to talk and demanding he answer her questions in an interview.
The Duke of York is facing intense scrutiny over his relationship with disgraced Jeffrey Epstein
As pressure continues to mount on the Queen’s second son to explain himself, Sun royal author Phil Dampier warns it could be too late, saying: “His reputation is in tatters and I honestly don’t know how easy it is for him to rescue it now.”
Here, Phil looks at the six key questions the 59-year-old royal must explain.
1) Was money the reason he stayed pals with Epstein after his sex conviction?
Andrew and the billionaire first met in 1999, after they were reportedly introduced by Epstein’s then-girlfriend, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell.
But in 2008, Epstein was locked up for just over a year for soliciting and procuring an underage girl for prostitution.
He was also registered as a sex offender – but after his release, Andrew was pictured with him in Central Park. Footage of the royal at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion has also emerged.
“Andrew biggest mistake – the one he admits – is that he continued to see Epstein after his conviction,” Phil says.
“The big question is why? He says he didn’t see any evidence of exploitation going on but he must have known he was playing with fire.
“It makes you wonder if it was not just because he was loyal to a friend.
“If Andrew ignored advice to stay away he only has himself to blame.”
According to Vanity Fair, the prince even defended his friendship with Epstein, telling a concerned friend that he was “going to be loyal” to the convicted sex offender.
He is also claimed to have said: “Leave me alone. Jeffrey’s my friend.”
In his official statement about Epstein, released last month, Andrew said: “I have said previously that it was a mistake and an error to see him after his release in 2010 and I can only reiterate my regret that I was mistaken to think that what I thought I knew of him was evidently not the real person, given what we now know.”
But this does not explain exactly why he decided to stay pals with the convict.
2) Why was Andrew pictured with his arm around Epstein’s teen ‘sex slave’?
In a now infamous photo from 2001, the Duke is seen with his arm around the bare midriff of Virginia Roberts Giuffre – Epstein’s alleged ‘sex slave’ – when she was just 17.
He hasn’t addressed the image, with a source close to him allegedly told the Evening Standard the Duke has “absolutely no recollection” of it.
“If ever a picture spoke a thousand words it’s this one,” says Phil.
“It’s haunted Andrew for a decade and no amount of spin can undo the damage.
“He wouldn’t have been drunk when he allowed himself to be photographed because he doesn’t drink, so his judgement in allowing it to be taken was questionable.”
The snap is said to have been taken at Epstein’s former girlfriend Maxwell’s London home, with Virginia alleging she was procured by Maxwell to work as a ‘sex slave’ – a claim Maxwell has strenuously denied.
She has also alleged she slept with Andrew three times, which the Duke has strongly denied.
He said in his statement: “I deplore the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behaviour.”
Virginia has had her claims thrown out by a judge who deemed them “immaterial”.
But last week, speaking outside court in New York, she begged Andrew to “come clean” about “what he has done”.
Phil says: “I don’t believe Andrew has a penchant for teenage girls – he prefers stronger mature women – and it’s quite possible he’s telling the truth that he didn’t sleep with Virginia Roberts.
“But I find it hard to believe he never met her.”
Last week, it was reported that Scotland Yard have said the original 2015 decision not to probe claims Virginia was forced to sleep with the Duke “remains entirely appropriate”.
But Virgina will not let it go, with her lawyers writing to Andrew this week to blast his claims the photo is fake and demanding he answer questions about it.
3) Is the photo of Andrew and Virginia real?
Andrew has also yet to respond to claims the infamous photo of him and Virginia is fake.
His pals have reportedly alleged the picture isn’t real because he has fatter fingers in real life – with one claiming Andrew can’t even remember meeting Virginia.
Phil struggles with these allegations.
“The picture has been around for a long time so if it was a fake surely Andrew would have said so years ago?” he says.
“If PR people around him are putting out such nonsense about his chubby fingers I think it insults people’s intelligence and just makes things worse.
“Andrew says he doesn’t remember meeting Virginia – which is not quite the same as categorically denying meeting her.”
4) Is Andrew cooperating with police?
Epstein – who socialised with a lot of rich and powerful people, including Donald Trump and the Clintons – was in jail awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges when he killed himself.
But since the 66-year-old’s suicide, it’s unclear whether Andrew has contacted police in the UK or America to try to help them with their enquiries into his former pal’s crimes – something Phil says the royal must quickly rectify.
“At the very least Andrew should make it clear when and where he is willing to meet police and tell them all he knows,” he says.
“It’s been said he’s worried he will be dragged in for questioning if he visits the US, so he should arrange a formal meeting in the UK at first.
“Once it’s been shown he’s co-operating it could be the first step to lifting the dark clouds hanging over him.”
It’s been suggested Andrew is willing to to co-operate with cops, with a lawyer for one of Epstein’s alleged victims urging the Duke to “come clean”.
Buckingham Palace told Sun Online it would “not comment on speculation.”
5) Just how close were Andrew and Epstein?
In his statement, the Duke says he saw Epstein “infrequently” and probably only once or twice a year.
The implication is they weren’t close, but as Phil points out there have been many photos of them socialising made public.
When he first met Epstein in 1999 he hosted the disgraced businessman and a model in her 20s at Balmoral castle, he’s admitted staying at a number of his homes and is thought to have used his jet.
“To claim Andrew only met Epstein once or twice a year is clearly rubbish and goodness knows how many more photos of them together may emerge over the coming weeks?” Phil points out.
“He would be better to admit he was a friend but it was a mistake to be so close to him.”
The pair have also been pictured on a peasant shoot at the Queen’s Sandringham estate, partying with now US President Donald Trump in 2000, and with a topless woman on a yacht in Phuket, Thailand, the following year.
All of this points to the Duke spending a lot more than “infrequent” time with Epstein, which Phil warns could be problematic for him.
“If civil cases go ahead in the US a lot more things will be said in court, and Andrew’s position could be untenable,” the author warns.
“The Queen will always stand by him and will be convinced that Andrew was taken in by Epstein, just as Prince Charles was a friend of Jimmy Savile.
“But other charities and organisations may not want to be associated with him anymore.”
6) So what did Andrew know and see?
Perhaps the most important question of all – yet one that Andrew has yet to fully answer.
The Duke has claimed that he didn’t witness or suspect any abusive behaviour as he holidayed, partied and stayed with Epstein before the billionaire’s conviction.
He added he is “appalled” by the recent sex abuse claims against his former pal.
Yet some have questioned why alarm bells didn’t ring for Andrew as young women “came and went” from Epstein’s New York mansion during the Duke’s 2010 stay there.
By this point, Epstein had already served time behind bars as a sex offender.
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Last week, embattled Andrew returned to work in the UK by joining celebrations at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta in Devon – his latest attempt to weather the Epstein storm.
But despite admitting in his statement that his former pal’s suicide has “left many unanswered questions”, the Duke has yet to address the many that relate to him.
But Phil warns it may be too late for him to do so now, with his reputation already so badly tarnished.