The Guardian view on Prince Andrew: he should do his duty
T here should be no disputing that, if they are true, the sexual abuse allegations made by Virginia Giuffre against Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, are serious. Nor can there be any denying that the seriousness, if it is established, would be both personal and also more widely political.
Ms Giuffre alleges that Prince Andrew had sex with her in London in 2001 when she was 17, and was thus still a minor under US (though not English) law, and that the prince knew she had been trafficked by his friend, the financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Ms Giuffre also claims that Epstein paid her $15,000 for the encounter.
Prince Andrew has emphatically denied these and other allegations. He says he has no recollection of meeting Ms Giuffre. But the allegations refuse to go away, in part because of the prince’s sometimes inept efforts to clear his name and to maintain his distance from the case. Two years ago, after his disastrous BBC Newsnight interview, he was compelled to step back from his public royal appearances and from his royal patronages.
Since then, the prince has nursed unrealistic hopes of an early return to public life. These have now been dashed, because Ms Giuffre has brought a US civil lawsuit against him alleging sexual assault and battery causing severe and lasting damage, along with a legal summons to respond within 21 days. Prince Andrew has reacted by heading to the hills, to Balmoral, where the Queen is on holiday. On Thursday, however, the Metropolitan police announced it is conducting a third review of the case, which may open the possibility of a UK criminal referral.
The case matters for two very different reasons, but they are umbilically connected because of who Prince Andrew is. The first, and the more immediately serious, is that the behaviour alleged against him would be an abuse requiring a remedy, as either the civil case or any criminal case may yet confirm. As the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, emphasised on Thursday, no one is above the law. Older men who sexually abuse women, especially underage women, are not above it either, even the Queen’s son. Ms Giuffre has made her allegations. Now Prince Andrew should respond fully and properly, within the processes of the law.
The other reason why the case matters is that it affects the reputations of the monarchy and the UK state. This will only increase if the civil case continues for the expected two years, a period covering the Queen’s platinum jubilee in 2022. The Queen is not just a mother and not just a sovereign. She is also the living embodiment of a constitutional state governed by the rule of law, which includes its reciprocal arrangements with foreign states. Prince Andrew’s inadequate responses – examples include the apparently minimalist stonewalling of his lawyers’ cooperation, the insensitivity of his Newsnight interview and the bad look of this week’s escape to Balmoral – risk reputational damage to this country, its governing institutions and its judicial relations with a key ally, the US.
The royal family has faced difficult and embarrassing challenges in the past, including the departure of the Sussexes. This, though, is much more serious. It will not be survived by pulling the duvet over the collective royal head. As well as the essential issue of justice, there are issues of state involved, issues of institutional credibility and international confidence.
The Prince of Wales is right to suspect there will be no way back into public life for his brother from all this. Now he must also use his influence to ensure that Prince Andrew faces his accuser. He must do the thing that royals most pride themselves on doing – his duty.