In the end there was nowhere left to hide, and there were no good options remaining. Since 2015, Prince Andrew has sought to discredit allegations of sexual abuse made against him by Virginia Giuffre, who claims that as a teenager she was repeatedly forced to sleep with him by the sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The prince has repeatedly denied this and, in a car-crash interview with BBC Newsnight, said he had no recollection of ever meeting her. As the screws tightened and Ms Giuffre filed a civil damages claim last year, his lawyers accused her of seeking a “payday”, questioned her mental health and tried to have the lawsuit thrown out on technical grounds.
All in vain. But it was only when the Duke of York’s back was against the wall, and cross-examination under oath before a jury loomed, that he threw in the towel on Tuesday and settled. The amount to be paid by the prince remains undisclosed, but Ms Giuffre’s lawyers have previously suggested that it would need to be large enough to represent “a vindication” of her claim. The accompanying statement by both parties contains no admission of wrongdoing on Prince Andrew’s part, but the formerly dismissive prince recognises his accuser’s bravery in standing up for herself and her status as a victim of sexual abuse. He states that he never intended to malign her character. This was anything but a legal score-draw. The settlement represents a major victory for an abused young woman from a modest background. Ms Giuffre’s determination to hold the wealthy, powerful and connected to account for their actions has been spectacularly validated.
For Prince Andrew, on the other hand, it seems unlikely that this deal will deliver the kind of closure he must crave. Ms Giuffre’s lawsuit will not now cast a shadow over the Queen’s forthcoming platinum jubilee celebrations – a consideration which appears to have been a significant factor in the decision to settle. Future criminal charges are also rendered extremely unlikely. But the reputational damage to the monarch’s favourite son has been done. The damning verdict already delivered in the court of public opinion will only have been confirmed by Prince Andrew’s decision not to fight in an actual one.
From the sustained nature of the friendship with Epstein – which continued even after a warrant was issued for his arrest over trafficking allegations – to the initial haughty indifference to Ms Giuffre’s claims, the prince’s behaviour has been that of a man who believed himself too powerful and too protected to be brought down. In that he was mistaken, and this misplaced, tin-eared hauteur contributed to his fall. The royal family has, in effect, cut him loose; the military titles and royal patronages have already gone and will not be restored. A campaign is under way to remove the title of Duke of York. Rightly, there is no comeback to public life in prospect.
Prince Andrew’s future thus looks likely to play itself out in a purgatorial twilight, haunted by the grave allegations he chose not to refute in court. The terms of the settlement submitted to the New York judge, Lewis Kaplan, state that he will show his regret for his friendship with Epstein by supporting the fight against sex trafficking. But while the prince’s substantial donation to the charity set up by Ms Giuffre to support victims’ rights will be welcome, a more personal route to atonement is complicated by the fact that he has not admitted to any wrongdoing. The existential price of this settlement – more costly than the millions to be paid out to shut the case down – is a permanently stained reputation and a blocked path to public rehabilitation. It is a fate that Prince Andrew has brought upon himself.