Prince Andrew halts public duties

Andy Bruce and Michael Holden
Prince Andrew will step back from his duties over the fall-out from his Jeffrey Epstein interview

Prince Andrew has stepped down from public duties, saying the controversy surrounding his "ill-judged" association with late US financier Jeffrey Epstein had caused major disruption to the royal family's work.

Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, denies an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by his friend Epstein, who killed himself in a US prison in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The scandal has escalated since Andrew did an interview with BBC TV that drew widespread criticism in the media, where many have said his explanations were unsatisfactory.

Lawyers for Epstein's victims said the prince showed little sympathy for those abused.

As a slew of businesses distanced themselves from organisations and charities associated with the prince, he said he would step down from public life for the time being and speak to police about Epstein.

"It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family's work," he said in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

"Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission," said Andrew, 59, whose official title is the Duke of York.

"Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

Andrew quit as Britain's roving trade ambassador in 2011 after being lambasted for his links to the financier following Epstein's jailing in 2008 for child sex offences.

Then in 2015, one of Epstein's accusers, Virginia Giuffre, said she was forced to have sex with Andrew in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island between 1999 and 2002, when she says Epstein kept her as a "sex slave".

In his BBC interview, Andrew categorically denied the sex claims and gave a series of explanations as to why her account was not true.

He said her account of meeting him sweating and dancing almost two decades ago at a London nightclub before having sex with him could not be true, noting that he suffered from a medical condition that stopped him perspiring.

He also said that on the night he was alleged to have met her he was at home with his family after visiting a Pizza Express restaurant in the commuter town of Woking with his daughter Beatrice.

The explanations provoked derision and ridicule in newspapers and social media.

He also told the BBC he had met Epstein in 1999 but his private secretary had written to the Times newspaper in 2011 saying they were introduced in the early 1990s.

Businesses have been pulling out of supporting his charities and Pitch@Palace scheme to help young tech entrepreneurs.

"I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein," Andrew said in his latest statement.

"His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure."

Dickie Arbiter, the monarch's former press secretary, said Andrew's decision was inevitable.

"He really had no choice, he'd gone into that interview on the belief probably it was crisis management, but he created more of a crisis than managing it," Arbiter told Sky News.

"I'm sorry to say he's arrogant enough to believe his own myth that he could get away with it, and he didn't get away with it. I think the Queen is very frustrated. At 93, she doesn't need this."