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28 January 2022

How strong is Prince Andrew’s case?

Virginia Giuffre, too, has been accused of serious inconsistencies in her accounts.

By Matthew Scott

Prince Andrew’s lawyers have stated that he wants to contest the allegations brought against him by Virginia Giuffre before a jury. I suppose that could be true – but given that Giuffre has previously made the same request and also has a constitutional right to have a jury trial, what he says about it is irrelevant.

What Prince Andrew would really, truly, like is for the whole case to go away. But for that to happen he would have to settle. The risks for the Duke of York in going to trial are staggering, and Giuffre’s lawyers know it.

The first risk to Andrew is personal bankruptcy. If Giuffre claims were proven at a trial in front of a jury, she would most likely be awarded damages which could be in the tens of millions of dollars. Unless the Queen is prepared to chip in – a horrible dilemma for her if it arose – it is probable that even a fraction of the likely figure would exceed what Andrew could afford to pay.

[See also: What does the royal family think about Prince Andrew?]

Second, if Andrew loses, his already damaged reputation would be utterly destroyed. There will be no rehabilitation after a courtroom defeat.

Third, Andrew could face the prospect of criminal charges in the US. The complexities of state and federal limitation laws may make that more or less probable, but it is not inconceivable. It is not hard to imagine the clamour for prosecution that would follow a resounding Giuffre victory in the civil courts.

Fourth, the danger of prosecution in an English court cannot be excluded. Giuffre alleges that Andrew sexually abused her three times – at Ghislaine Maxwell‘s house in London in 2001, when she was 17, and later at Jeffrey Epstein’s homes in Manhattan and Little St James in the Virgin Islands. The UK’s criminal law has provision for prosecuting UK nationals who travel abroad to commit sexual offences.

Knowing the pressure on Andrew, Giuffre is likely to seek significant damages which could financially ruin him. If all she wants is money she may hope that he can somehow, perhaps with some family assistance, scrape together enough to make the trial unnecessary.

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But Andrew may still have some chance of winning the trial on procedural grounds. Andrew’s lawyers previously attempted to get the case dismissed, citing a 2009 deal Giuffre signed with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, but the New York judge, Lewis Kaplan, ruled that the case could continue. The argument, however, that Giuffre’s settlement with Epstein protects Andrew remains open, as does the defence that Giuffre is unable to bring her case to court in New York as she is now an Australian resident. Yet in order to make those points Andrew will have to go to trial. 

He could simply decline to turn up to defend the case. Such an abject surrender would avoid the prospect of Andrew being publicly shredded on the witness stand, and it would also avoid the risk of him being arrested in the US. Otherwise it would be as catastrophic as fighting and losing.

Unless Giuffre is ready to settle the case – which is of course possible – Andrew really has only one other option left: to forget any thought of settlement and contest it as vigorously as he can. There is hardly ever certainty in litigation, and none in this case. Andrew may have damaged his own credibility with his disastrous and unnecessary 2019 Newsnight interview, but Giuffre too has been accused of serious inconsistencies in her accounts, and he can argue that she has an obvious motivation to lie. And of course she carries the burden of proof. Huge though the risks for Andrew are, her victory is not a foregone conclusion.

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