In 1986, Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson at Westminster Abbey to an avalanche of enthusiastic press coverage. Thirty-five years later, he faces a lawsuit for sexual assault from Virginia Giuffre, a woman who was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein. He is disgraced, stripped of his military titles, will no longer be officially “His Royal Highness”, nor represent the Queen. After yesterday’s summit with his mother at Windsor Castle, Andrew is no longer a working royal in any capacity and must, as the statement from Buckingham Palace made clear, face the lawsuit as a “private citizen”.
Giuffre, a survivor of trafficking and abuse, has been courageous. Attacked and slandered by powerful individuals, she has continued to argue her case. She is, her team says, determined to have her day in court. The lawsuit may now go ahead as early as this autumn. In the year of the Platinum Jubilee, which was supposed to be all about celebrating the Queen and her long reign, the royal family are confronting the worrying possibility that attention will now be on the court case against Andrew.
The wedding of Prince Andrew was supposed to be the beginning of happy ever after for “Randy Andy”. And yet it wasn’t. By 1999, Andrew had become friendly with Jeffrey Epstein, who died before he could be put on trial. Andrew invited Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell to royal parties. When others swiftly distanced themselves from Epstein, who had been convicted of sex crimes in 2008, Andrew visited and stayed with him in New York. Giuffre, when she says she met Andrew in London in 2001, had Epstein snap a photo on her own camera, a photo that Andrew has claimed was doctored, even though other witnesses say they saw him with her in New York and at Epstein’s private island. Andrew has always denied the charges against him.
Few royals have ever had to face the law. To look for a similar situation, we have to go back to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. In 1868, Sir Charles Mordaunt accused his young wife Harriet of adultery with various men, and after finding letters from the prince, believed she had also had an affair with him. The prince had to give evidence to the subsequent divorce, declaring he had never been alone with Harriet, but appeared for only a few minutes and was not cross-examined by Sir Charles’s counsel. Fortunately for the prince, it was decided that Harriet was “insane” and should be put in an asylum – and could not be divorced. Lady Mordaunt was locked away. She was probably suffering from what we would now call postnatal depression.
But even this case is not comparable: Lady Mordaunt was an adult. Giuffre was a minor when she alleges Andrew sexually assaulted her. She shows no sign of backing down, and the days when women could be so easily locked away are over.
From the catastrophic Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis, in which Andrew expressed no sympathy for the victims of Epstein, to arguments that delivering papers to his protection officers did not mean he had been served, Andrew’s public response to her allegations has been a vision of entitlement. Throughout the Newsnight interview, he claimed he didn’t know Epstein well, but was good friends with Maxwell, and Epstein came to his social occasions as her “plus one”. He invited Maxwell and Epstein to parties, including his daughter’s 18th and a party at Windsor Castle where the Queen was present; he is even accused of asking Maxwell to bring women to Buckingham Palace for him. After Maxwell’s conviction for sex trafficking, Andrew’s association with her is a serious problem.
Since Judge Lewis Kaplan denied Andrew’s bid to throw out the sex abuse case, the damage limitation stories have emerged. One report suggests that Andrew will sell his chalet in Verbier, in the Swiss Alps, to fund legal fees and any settlement, instead of it being paid by his mother; other suggest he will settle out of court. Trying to encourage Giuffre to settle might have been easier had Andrew’s legal team not chosen to publish slurs against her – calling a victim of underage sexual abuse a “money-hungry sex kitten” in legal documents and accusing her of frivolous and inconsistent claims. And a settlement could run into the millions. There is a mortgage on the chalet, so Andrew needs to get more money from somewhere. Sources have explained that Giuffre would also expect an apology.
So Andrew’s legal team, who have hardly endeared themselves to Giuffre, have the mother of all battles on their hands to persuade her to take a settlement. Even if she does, the taint will remain. But if she chooses to go to court instead, Andrew losing his military titles will be the least of his problems. A trial would be a disaster for Andrew and the royals. It would involve lengthy questioning, depositions, including possibly his former wife and daughters, and requests for evidence that has hitherto remained unfound, such as the records of Andrew’s protection officers for where he was the night when Virginia claims she met him. He could refuse to cooperate with the process, but the court would still judge in his absence.
The comparison had been made by many that Prince Harry had relinquished his military titles when he stepped back to protect his wife and family – and many military sources had expressed sadness to lose him. Prince Harry had no lawsuits against him, no accusations. So, why was it that the royal dogged by controversy still retained all his accolades until now? Harry longed for a statement from the wider royal family backing up his concerns for his wife; Andrew was supported by the palace, which issued statements that “emphatically denied” the claims of Giuffre.
But in a swift turnaround, Andrew is now out in the cold, no longer a member of the Firm. And if the case proceeds and the judge finds he was guilty of sexual assault of a minor, he will be found guilty not as a royal, but as a private citizen.