Daily Telegraph, 17 November 2019
At the very end of her interview with Prince Andrew, Emily Maitlis offered him an opportunity to express sympathy for Jeffrey Epstein’s victims. He didn’t take it, even though the teenage girls at the heart of the case had been absent from his frequently risible account of his friendship with the convicted sex offender.
For almost an hour, the prince had talked mainly about himself, batting away references to Epstein’s crimes as though the financier had merely been caught with his hand in the till at a golf club. What on earth did Andrew think the conversation was about? I don’t suppose sex trafficking is often discussed in the drawing-rooms of Buckingham Palace, but that’s no reason to sanitise it. This was an interview prompted by multiple accusations of rape and procuring girls to be sexually assaulted, not a chat about having a slightly dodgy mate.
Epstein’s milieu, into which he was more than happy to welcome the Queen’s second son, was more rarefied than the kebab shops and taxi businesses run by the men convicted of grooming under-age girls in the north of England. But his modus operandi – identifying girls from a poor background and snaring them with promises and little luxuries – was essentially the same.
It said as much in the indictment he faced on his arrest on July this year, which alleged that Epstein ‘sexually exploited and abused dozens of minor girls at his homes in Manhattan, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, among other locations’. Facing the prospect of many years in prison, Epstein killed himself a month later.
Some of his homes were visited by the Duke of York, on his own admission, apparently without his ever noticing that anything was wrong. Other sources have claimed it was impossible to miss the number of young girls in these establishments, suggesting that the prince – a one-time patron of an NSPCC campaign to protect vulnerable children – is remarkably unobservant.
The fact remains that by the time Andrew visited Epstein in 2010, staying with him for four days to ease the pain of having to impart the news that their friendship was over, the financier was on the sex offenders’ register. In 2008, he had pleaded guilty to a charge of solicitation of prostitution of a minor and was sentenced to 18 months in prison, although he served only 13 months.
Other charges could have been brought against him, involving girls who weren’t consulted before prosecutors in Florida decided to limit the extent of the prosecution, but they were reportedly treated more like prostitutes than victims. Prosecutors even trawled the girls’ Myspace pages, arguing that their choice of clothes undermined their credibility as witnesses.
For victims, being written out of the story is a horribly familiar experience. In Rochdale, when a 15-year-old girl disclosed that she had been repeatedly raped by a group of British-Asian men, she was deemed by social workers to have made a ‘lifestyle choice’. Women and girls who accused Jimmy Savile of sexual assault got nowhere until he was exposed, after his death, as one of this country’s most prolific sex offenders.
Epstein was more affluent, better-dressed and had more impressive connections than most paedophiles. That doesn’t alter the fact that he was accused of some of the most serious offences imaginable, including rape and sex trafficking.
Prince Andrew – himself a father of two daughters – was offered the most public of platforms to express concern for the young women his friend preyed upon. Instead, he lined up with a long cast of prosecutors, police and social workers who have completely failed to show any empathy for victims.
If the Duke’s lack of remorse has done nothing else, it’s a vivid illustration of how little self-regarding men care about abused women and girls. Tragically, it’s one of the principal reasons why sexual predators get away with it for so long,