Photo that could haunt the Queen
Prince Andrew attending church with his mother, the Queen, doesn't normally constitute headline news, but his appearance by Her Majesty's side in a customised Bentley overnight was seen by many as a deliberate signal of support after an extraordinary few days for the Duke of York.
Late last week, Andrew's relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was catapulted back in the spotlight after 1,200 pages of previously sealed court documents were made public, and which revealed disturbing allegations against a number of powerful men.
In the tranche of court papers, Andrew was accused of groping a young woman's breast while at financier Jeffrey Epstein's Manhattan apartment in 2001.
Over the weekend Buckingham Palace, BBC reports, put out a statement saying "any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue" and that the documents relate to US proceedings "to which the Duke of York is not a party".
The documents relate to a defamation case in which Epstein's self-described "sex slave" Virginia Giuffre sued his former girlfriend and alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell. Giuffre had previously alleged that Maxwell, the daughter of former media baron Robert Maxwell, had helped procure underage girls for Epstein.
(Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged.)
Epstein was found dead on Saturday in a New York jail cell, having apparently suicided. He had been arrested in July on federal sex trafficking charges and is alleged to have attempted suicide several weeks ago.
Over the weekend Buckingham Palace, the BBC reports, put out a statement saying that the "any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue" and that the documents relate to US proceedings "to which the Duke Of York is not a party".
So how did the Queen's son, who is by many accounts her favourite child, end up embroiled in this horrifying case?
THE FINANCIER AND HIS FAMOUS FRIENDS
After amassing a huge private fortune in the 80s and 90s, Epstein started moving in elite social circles. Flight records show that a number of powerful people travelled on Epstein's private jet, reportedly nicknamed the "Lolita Express", including former President Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.
Mr Clinton has denied having a close relationship with Epstein and has said that their contact was connected to aid work. Mr Trump has denied knowing anything about Epstein's alleged crimes in July said, "I had a falling out with him. I haven't spoken to him in 15 years. I was not a fan of his, that I can tell you."
Prince Andrew is alleged to have met Epstein through his ex-girlfriend Maxwell. According to the Guardian, Prince Andrew and Epstein's relationship dates back to the early 90s, with "The pair … reportedly seen partying together in St Tropez and Thailand."
In a photo allegedly taken in 2001, Andrew appears with his arm around Giuffre with Maxwell by her side. Giuffre's lawyer has claimed that the picture was taken when Giuffre "was a minor child" and was taken at Maxwell's house in London.
In 2006 Jeffery Epstein was charged with multiple counts of unlawful sexual acts with a minor. In a plea deal (which has since faced mounting criticism and scrutiny) he pleaded guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of solicitation of prostitution with a minor under the age of 18.
Epstein was sentenced to 18 months in jail. During this time he was able to leave the confines of his jail six days a week to work out of his Florida office and was allowed to have visitors for up to 12 hours a day. Once he was released in 2009, Epstein was made to register as a sex offender.
A VISIT TO NEW YORK
In December 2010, Andrew was photographed walking through Central Park in New York with Epstein. In February, 2011, Britain's News of the World published images of the duo's stroll.
The following week, the Mail on Sunday published explosive claims by Giuffre that she had been Epstein's "sex slave" after she was recruited at 15 years old and that she had been "sexually exploited by Epstein's adult male peers, including royalty". She claimed that Epstein had arranged for her "to see Andrew three times, in London and New York and on Epstein's private Caribbean island, Little Saint James".
Buckingham Palace put out a statement vehemently denying the allegations saying "any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue." In 2015, the allegations against Andrew contain were ruled as "immaterial and impertinent" by the judge and were struck from the court record.
Andrew's ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, admitted in March 2011 that Andrew had appealed to Epstein to help her pay off a debt. The disgraced financier had paid $26,600 towards the $138,000 the Duchess owed her former personal assistant Johnny O'Sullivan, the Telegraph reported.
A day after that story broke, Ferguson said: "This was a gigantic error of judgment on my behalf.
"The Duke sorted out my debts and he and his office have been more than marvellous … I had no idea of the string of other allegations and court cases against [Epstein] and I am distraught that I should have allowed myself to get out of debt with any help from him when my judgment was clouded."
The ensuing controversy meant that in July 2011 Andrew was forced to resign from his position as an official UK trade envoy.
COURT DOCUMENTS UNSEALED
All of this might have been relegated to an unfortunate episode in royal history, had it not been for a judge in the US who decided to unseal thousands of documents relating to Giuffre's defamation case. Last Friday, a federal court released 1,200 of documents including a deposition from Joanna Sjoberg, who has similarly alleged that Maxwell introduced her to Epstein.
According to court documents, Sjoberg had testified: "I just remember someone suggesting a photo, and they told us to go get on the couch. And so Andrew and Virginia sat on the couch, and they put the puppet, the puppet on her lap. And so then I sat on Andrew's lap, and I believe on my own volition, and they took the puppet's hands and put it on Virginia's breast, and so Andrew put his on mine."
In a document filed in January 2017, Giuffre's lawyers said: "Ms Sjoberg also testified about sexual acts that occurred with her, Prince Andrew, and Ms Giuffre, when she and [Maxwell] were staying at Epstein's Manhattan mansion."
THE QUEEN AND ANDREW
July usually sees Her Majesty and Prince Philip head north to Balmoral their privately owned vast estate in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. The couple normally spends around three months there, welcoming family and friends for extended visits during which they enjoy long walks, hunting and picnics.
Last week, both Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York were separately seen arriving in Scotland to enjoy some time with the Queen along with their daughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. (Beatrice's boyfriend Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and Eugenie's husband Jack Brooksbank are also reported staying at Balmoral.)
What should have been a relaxing break from city life has instead been clouded by these new allegations.
Every Sunday sees Her Majesty attend services at Crathie Kirk and she is often accompanied by family members. The appearance of Andrew, grinning broadly, on Sunday was thus seen to be a deliberate gesture of support by Her Majesty as the Epstein scandal grows.
If there was any question of the significance of the Duke's outing, consider that Her Majesty generally arrives for Church in a Range Rover or other vehicle. Instead, yesterday she chose to use her customised Bentley which has much larger windows, specifically designed so that she can be seen more easily.
Also keep in mind that many believe that the Queen's second son is her favourite child. In a letter to her cousin Lady Mary Cambridge after Andrew's birth, she wrote: "The baby is adorable … All in all, he's going to be terribly spoiled by all of us, I'm sure."
THOUSANDS MORE DOCUMENTS TO COME?
Last week's release might only be the start. So far, only 1,200 of the 2000 documents that a judge ordered to be unsealed have been made public.
However, far more might be about to see the light of day: The Telegraph reports that another judge, who is hearing a related case, will now have to decide whether to unseal a further 10,000 pages of documents.
(Giuffre's defamation case was settled out of court by Maxwell in 2017.)
As the scandal only grows on both sides of the Atlantic, with the FBI announcing they are investigating Epstein's death, the Queen's appearance with Andrew was a powerful gesture of loyalty.
One person involved in the case told Vanity Fair after the first tranche of documents were released: "A lot of important people are going to have a really bad weekend."
We will just have to wait and see if there are any more "bad weekends" to come.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer with 20 years' experience who has written for some of Australia's best print and digital media brands.