The Duke of York has broken his silence over his involvement with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, saying that he never saw him do anything illegal.
Prince Andrew, speaking in his own words through a statement issued by Buckingham Palace, said that "at no stage during the limited time I spent with" the disgraced financier "did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction".
In the statement, the Prince said: "It is apparent to me since the suicide of Mr Epstein that there has been an immense amount of media speculation about so much in his life. This is particularly the case in relation to my former association or friendship with Mr Epstein.
"Therefore I am eager to clarify the facts to avoid further speculation.
"I met Mr Epstein in 1999. During the time I knew him, I saw him infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year. I have stayed in a number of his residences.
"At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction.
"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. I have tremendous sympathy for all those affected by his actions and behaviour.
"His suicide has left many unanswered questions and I acknowledge and sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure."
Referring to his former friend’s behaviour Prince Andrew said: “This is a difficult time for everyone involved and I am at a loss to be able to understand or explain Mr Epstein's lifestyle. I deplore the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behaviour."
Around the same time as he was photographed with Epstein in Central Park, Prince Andrew was also filmed at the door of the financier’s home in New York, waving goodbye to a young woman, now identified as Katherine Keating, the daughter of the former Australian Prime Minister.
Palace officials emphasised the Duke had no contact with Mr Epstein since the 2010 encounters in New York.
There are likely to be more calls in the coming days for the Prince to approach the US authorities, who continue to investigate Epstein following his suicide earlier this month, to explain his version of events.
Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile American lawyer who has denied allegations against him by one of Epstein's victims, said the Duke of York should follow his example and make his case publicly, providing whatever evidence he could.
Duke of York: 'No recollection of meeting 17-year-old'
Prince Andrew has told friends he has no recollection of ever meeting Virginia Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, the woman who accuses him of having sex with her when she was just 17, The Telegraph can reveal.
The Duke of York was photographed with his arm around the waist of Ms Roberts at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell in 2001.
Allegations made in court papers released in the US also suggested that the Duke had flown a number of times with Ms Roberts on a private jet belonging to Epstein, who hanged himself in jail a fortnight ago.
Some of the dates of flights are demonstrably false because at the time the Duke was said to be on Epstein’s aircraft with Ms Roberts he was in fact on royal business in the UK.
But sources close to the Duke says it is impossible for him to disprove if he ever took a flight with Ms Roberts on other occasions because he simply doesn’t remember her.
The friend said: “The Duke has been on thousands of flights and he has no recollection of Virginia Roberts.”
Prince Andrew, 59, has admitted an “error of judgment” in visiting Epstein at his home in new York in 2010, two years after the multi-millionaire had admitted having sex with an underage girl and had allegedly been linked to the molestation of 36 others, some as young as 14.
But Buckingham Palace has stressed the evidence submitted to US legal proceedings by one of Epstein’s pilots was untested in court and that some dates are provably false.
A spokesman said: “This evidence statement was submitted in a case in which the Duke was not a party and in which any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.
“The statement submitted shows a number of inconsistencies between The Duke’s alleged location and his actual location when checked with the court circular. In some cases he is on different continents.
“It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.”
The court papers come from depositions in a defamation case brought by Ms Roberts against Ms Maxwell, the daughter of the dead tycoon Robert Maxwell.
Ms Maxwell settled out of court before the case came to trial meaning the testimony has never been tested in open court.
The Duke of York is said to have told friends he fears he may never be able to return to the US for fear of being drawn into the civil proceedings brought by some of Epstein’s victims.
Since Epstein’s arrest attempts by the Prince to distance himself from his former friend have been undermined by the emergence of details of how he hosted the disgraced financier at Balmoral and by picture sof him at Epstein’s New York mansion in 2010, two years after he had been convicted of sex with a child.
Now sources say Prince Andrew has put on hold plans to launch a business venture in the US.
One palace insider told The Daily Mail: “Andrew has openly said he can’t see how he can go back to the US at the moment with everything that is going on.”
The sources spoke out as it emerged that prosecutors in France have opened an inquiry into the suspected rape and sexual abuse of women - including girls - by Epstein.
One advocacy group for chil sex abuse victims, Innocence En Danger, said it had received 10 witness statements about alleged sex crimes against minorsin France.
Epstein’s arrest last month came just after he had returned from Paris, where he owned an apartment near L’Arc de Triomphe.
Remy Heitz, Prosecutor for the French Republic, said: “The investigations will focus on potential crimes committed against French victims on national territory as well as abroad and on suspects who are French citizens.”