The Duke of York has said it was “a mistake and an error” to spend time with the paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein after his release from prison.
Prince Andrew was pictured with his former friend in 2010 after Epstein had served an 18-month sentence for prostituting minors.
In a statement, the duke insisted that he had no suspicion about Epstein’s behaviour, and he expressed sympathy for the financier’s victims.
Epstein’s apparent suicide in a New York jail cell, where he was facing charges of child sex trafficking, has again put the spotlight on the rich and powerful friends he surrounded himself with, including Prince Andrew, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
In his statement the duke 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.”
He added: “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.
“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.”
Earlier this week Buckingham Palace issued a short statement saying the duke was “appalled by the recent reports of Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes”, after a video emerged of Andrew peering out of the front door of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion in 2010.
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The emergence of further claims, including that the duke had been seen receiving a foot massage from a young Russian woman inside Epstein’s home, appears to have prompted the fuller statement.
In 2015 Virginia Roberts alleged in court papers in Florida that she was forced to have sex with Andrew in 2001, when she was 17, which is under the age of consent in the state.
She alleged she had sex with Andrew “three times, including one orgy” in London, at Epstein’s New York home, and at an “orgy” on his private island in the Caribbean.
The claims were later officially struck from the court records when a judge ruled they were unnecessary to the case, stating they were “immaterial and impertinent” to the “central claim” against Epstein
Buckingham Palace has branded the allegations “false and without any foundation”.