Prince Andrew’s fight or flight moment: 21 days to decide his defence

London: It should have been a joyous week for the Duke of York, as his first granddaughter was born amid the flurry of a celebratory announcement by Buckingham Palace.

As a doting family man, ordinarily Prince Andrew would have been expected at his daughter Princess Beatrice’s bedside following the birth of her first child with her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi on Saturday night.

While his ex-wife, the Duchess of York, was able to rush back down to London to meet the as-yet-unnamed newborn over the weekend, Prince Andrew remained holed up at Balmoral Castle where he has more on his mind than the pitter-patter of tiny feet.

Prince Andrew has final been serviced the lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre’s lawyers. Credit:Pool PA

For having bolted back to his mother the Queen’s Scottish estate over a week ago, the 61-year-old royal remains stuck between a rock and what one close friend described as “several hard places”.

Not only is the former Royal Navy pilot facing investigation by the US Department of Justice over his historic links to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, but he is now the subject of a civil sex abuse claim by one of billionaire financier’s victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre.

Last month, the 38-year-old mother-of-three filed a New York lawsuit against Prince Andrew, accusing him of “sexual assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress”.

Giuffre claims she was forced to have sex with the Duke in London, at Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse and on his Caribbean island. The Duke vehemently denies the allegations and has insisted he has “no recollection” of meeting her, despite photographic evidence to the contrary.

Prince Andrew pictured with Virginia Giuffre at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell (right) in London in 2001.

Yet after nearly two years of apparent “stonewalling” since he stepped back from royal duties in the wake of a disastrous Newsnight interview in November 2019, the clock is ticking on Prince Andrew’s chances of restoring any honour he once had.

Having been deemed to have been adequately “served” with the legal papers relating to Mrs Giuffre’s claim by Judge Kaplan, presiding over the case in New York, Andrew will have 21 days to file a response or risk a judgment by default.

A saga that has dragged on for a decade since Giuffre first made her claims public in 2011 now faces a three-week deadline.

With the Duke’s own legal tactics having been called into question – amid criticism his “ducking and diving” has given the impression he has something to hide – could this long-running legal battle finally be about to be turned on its head?

Reports of Prince Andrew sacking his UK law firm Blackfords, led by criminal defence solicitor Gary Bloxsome, appear wide of the mark – but there is no doubt that a different approach is in the offing. Bloxsome’s decision to bring in high-profile Hollywood lawyer, Andrew Brettler to fight the civil case marks a significant turning point.

The Duke’s London lawyers had planned to rebuff the initial proceedings in the case and had no intention of taking part in the pre-trial hearing. However, when hired as lead counsel, Brettler warned it would do them no favours to ignore the judge’s order, forcing a change of tack.

Seemingly intent on turning a crisis into an opportunity, Brettler appears to have persuaded the Duke that, rather than being a negative development, the civil case could prove to be the catalyst that clears his name.

As one well-placed source who was not free to discuss the case on the record explained: “The challenge is, he’s caught between a rock and several hard places. The consistent advice he’s received from his London lawyers is they shouldn’t cooperate with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) because they cannot be trusted. They were going to cooperate – and have emails to prove it – until Geoffrey Berman [US Attorney for the Southern District of New York] took to the steps of Epstein’s Manhattan mansion and claimed there had been zero cooperation from the Duke, which simply wasn’t true.

“The DOJ, seemingly trying to make up for the deplorable plea deal they signed with Epstein in the first place, are basically saying ‘You cooperate on our terms and our terms alone’, which no lawyer would agree to.

“So what we’ve had is this sort of Mexican stand-off for the past 18 months. But what the US lawyers are now saying is that, contrary to wider perception, the civil case that has been brought by Mrs Giuffre provides an opportunity, rather than being a threat, because it enables the Duke finally to properly scrutinise inconsistencies in her narrative – not just in the court of public opinion, but in a court of law. They argue that’s the way they are going to find a resolution to the whole thing – including the DOJ investigation.”

The PR strategy is a simple one. Following the catastrophic fallout from the Newsnight interview, which left viewers with more questions than it answered, the Duke has been advised that he must find a legal resolution before even beginning to try to explain his behaviour – let alone consider a return to public life.

Until now, the Palace and his inner circle of advisers have been keen to resist any mudslinging at Giuffre, for fear of being criticised for victim-blaming in the post #MeToo era.

Yet, as one friend pointed out: “This is Mrs Giuffre’s case. She has brought it, therefore she has actively invited legal scrutiny of her own version of events.”

Citing inconsistencies in her story – including claiming the teetotal Duke drank a cocktail, and alleging there were four encounters, when her writ only details three – they added: “The modus operandi of the US lawyers will be to robustly engage and challenge. For Giuffre, it could prove to be a case of be careful what you wish for.”

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is said to be in favour of fighting the case in court. Credit:Getty

For those closest to Andrew, including Sarah Ferguson, who still lives with him at Royal Lodge, Windsor, despite their 1996 divorce, this is the moment they have been waiting for. The friend added: “Sarah’s view is very much that the man’s done nothing wrong, so let’s just have it out.” Although much has been made of Giuffre’s case against Alan Dershowitz being dropped on the basis of a financial settlement she reached with Epstein in 2009, apparently promising not to sue any of his friends or associates, it seems Brettler and his team are intent on winning on more than just a legal technicality.

As one insider put it: “The US legal team thinks the best thing is to get into the ins and outs of what she’s actually accused him of – and pick the claims apart one by one.”

Virginia Giuffre in 2019. Credit:AP

Whether this would require the Duke’s physical presence in court in New York remains to be seen – and there’s no doubt calling Giuffre’s bluff is a far riskier strategy than seeking to get the case dropped – or even settling out of court. Bloxsome had been confident that Giuffre would drop her claim before it got to court, allowing the Duke to return to public life this summer. Instead, she and her legal team have dug in their heels even further.

With the Palace having largely washed its hands of the saga, the Duke’s team know it is going to take a gargantuan effort to rehabilitate his image. He has already been found guilty in the court of public opinion of a massive error in judgement in visiting Epstein in New York after he was jailed for procuring a child for prostitution and of soliciting a prostitute in 2008. People will still continue to believe there is no smoke without fire unless he is fully exonerated. Yet he cannot feasibly be vindicated unless he blows Giuffre’s claims apart.

With just 21 days to rescue his ruined reputation, it seems the Duke of York is fast coming to the conclusion that he has nothing left to lose.

The Telegraph, London

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