RICHARD KAY: Can Prince Andrew find it in himself to do the right thing for the Queen – even if it trashes what’s left of his reputation?
For Prince Andrew the verdict from New York was like the slamming of a door – with the bolts being drawn behind it.
The unflinching optimism with which he had been assuring family and friends of the integrity of his case is in danger of evaporating.
In his 46-page judgement rejecting Andrew’s motion to have the lawsuit against him thrown out, Judge Lewis Kaplan has changed everything.
Suddenly it is no longer an issue of whether the prince can save himself but rather if he – or the people around him – have the common sense to realise that the main purpose now must be to prevent the reputation and good name of the monarchy being further soiled by this squalid saga.
Only a settlement with his accuser Virginia Roberts it seems, can prevent the prospect of the Queen’s favourite son facing an unseemly court-room battle in which his most private secrets risk being tastelessly exposed for every prurient observer to enjoy.
Who knows what sordid depths will be plumbed if Andrew is obliged to undergo a brutal cross-examination? It will not just be private correspondence, text messages, emails and diary entries that will be aired in public, but quite likely medical records and other intimate details.
Only a settlement with his accuser Virginia Roberts it seems, can prevent the prospect of the Queen’s favourite son (pictured together in 2019) facing an unseemly court-room battle
And it is entirely possible that there would be the added humiliation of Princess Beatrice being interrogated about her father’s principal alibi that he could not have been with Miss Roberts the night she alleges the prince had sex with her, because he had been with his then 12-year-old daughter at a school friend’s birthday party.
Although there is no guarantee that Beatrice would be called – or even be compelled to give evidence – the mere chance of that happening is enough to bring courtiers out in a cold sweat.
As the enormity of yesterday’s decision was sinking in last night, the task facing those senior figures at the top of the Royal Household was clear: insulating the Queen from the damaging fall-out.
Even the havoc of the Diana years is dwarfed by the potential risk this case threatens. While the most senior royals continue to remain apparently loyal to the Duke of York, some of those who serve the family wonder why, if he is as blameless as he vehemently insists, he has failed to convince the world of his innocence.
It is this attritional impact of the case on the monarchy that is the centre of their thoughts. This year, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, was meant to be one of celebration and joy, marking Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne and her decades of unquestioning service and duty.
Instead it will be overshadowed by Andrew and his unsavoury predicament.
Until yesterday, Andrew had just about got away with a combination of delaying and evasion, though at huge cost to his credibility.
Now his failure to get off a sex trafficking case on a technicality has shredded what little remained of his reputation. But will the royal family finally recognise this too? The ‘Andrew problem’, of course, is nothing new.
Pictured: The Duke of York was photographed with his arm around the bare waist of then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts. Ghislaine Maxwell is photographed standing in the background
When he came to the end of his Royal Navy career there was a family conference to discuss what on earth they could do with him. It was that decision to insert Andrew into the role of trade ambassador – previously held by the blameless Duke of Kent – that was the start of all his troubles.
Indeed the appointment almost coincided with him making friends with a then-unknown American financier called Jeffery Epstein.
As a much-loved second son, Andrew was indulged in a way that Prince Charles was not.
Later on, his bravery as a helicopter pilot during the Falklands war, when he flew decoy missions to keep Argentine missiles away from the British fleet, should have been enough to make him a respected figure in recent royal history.
But it is forever besmirched by the grubbiness of his links with the late paedophile Epstein and other unsuitable friendships. ‘Within the family he is seen as someone who has behaved idiotically but he is “blood”, so they will support him,’ says a figure close to the prince.
Increasingly, however, the view taking root is that there can be no rehabilitation for the Duke of York. ‘He has made so many bad decisions, from visiting Epstein after his release from prison, to giving his Newsnight interview to Emily Maitlis,’ says an aide.
Miss Roberts, 38, claims she was 17 when she slept with Andrew under orders from Epstein
‘But it’s pretty pointless going over past errors. The question is what to do next and choosing an outcome that minimises damaging the monarchy.’
Should Andrew make a settlement – with no admission of liability – with Miss Roberts (who now uses her married name Giuffre) there could be other dangers.
The first is that in the court of public opinion, a financial pay-off could be considered an admission of guilt and it would mean that his very public undertaking to clear his name would have failed.
At the same time, there is no certainty that Miss Roberts, who says she slept with Andrew three times when she was 17, would accept the duke’s offer, however generous, and may instead want her day in court.
Then there is the possibility that settling with Miss Roberts might trigger claims from other girls who may allege they too were trafficked by Epstein to have sex with him. For Andrew, this raises the nightmare prospect of years of costly litigation.
Whatever decision he takes will be a presentational quagmire for the prince. But at the moment those may be the least of his problems.
Pictured: Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Queen Elizabeth II depart the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey on March 11, 2019
For the 95-year-old Queen, none of the options facing her son are palatable. In the nine months since the death of Prince Philip she has leaned heavily on 61-year old Andrew. He makes regular visits to his mother in Windsor Castle, driving himself from nearby Royal Lodge.
Indeed, I understand that because of his proximity to the castle, Andrew was asked by his siblings to be his mother’s most frequent family visitor. It means decisions about his future are likely to be made by Prince Charles rather than the Queen.
But while there is no longer any question of the prince returning to royal duties he cannot be fired or dismissed from his role. ‘He is the son of the monarch and the brother of the next one, and that cannot be changed,’ says a close figure.
‘Settling the case and then explaining publicly he will have no royal future and that he is doing it for the good of the monarchy might be the only way. Of course, it doesn’t answer the question of what he will do for what could be the next 30 years of his life.’
Friends say that his focus will also be on protecting his two daughters, both newly married and with young families.
The stakes in this case have always been high but by clearing the way for the civil case to proceed, judge Kaplan has raised them to a new level. The question is: can Andrew find it in himself to do the right thing for the monarchy, while knowing whatever decision he takes will destroy the last remnants of his own reputation?