Prince Andrew has found himself at the centre of a sex scandal over allegations he had intercourse on three occasions with a 17-year-old girl, supplied to him by Epstein, an American businessman.
The Duke strongly denies the allegations but has now told friends of his deep regret at becoming involved with Epstein. He also accepts the allegations have been “deeply uncomfortable” for the Royal family.
The Duke previously conceded he had made “an error of judgment” over meeting Epstein in New York in 2011 following the financier’s release from jail. But now he has gone much further in expressing his contrition.
A source close to the Duke told The Telegraph: “It would be crass and disingenuous to suggest that he has been unaffected by this.
“He is watching the news and reading the headlines and even though the friendship with Jeffrey Epstein was acknowledged as being unwise back in 2011, the Duke has clearly had a long time this week for the consequences of that friendship to further sink in. More than ever, he can see how foolish it was.”
The Duke has also accepted he can never go to court to clear his name over the allegation that he had sex with Virginia Roberts, one of Epstein’s underage “sex slaves”, because such a legal action would do immense harm to the monarchy.
By comparison, Alan Dershowitz, Epstein’s lawyer, who faces similar claims by Miss Roberts, is counter-suing and has also suggested the Duke do the same.
But the source said: “Clearly there is frustration on the Duke’s part. There is no immediate legal channel through which he is required or able to respond to the claims.
“He hasn’t been accused by prosecutors of any crime, and of course, look at Alan Dershowitz, he is taking legal action against her lawyers and has petitioned to become a party in the case to say what he knows, but he isn’t the fifth in line to the throne of the UK.
“What alternative does that leave him? He could come out and give an interview to fight it in the court of public opinion, but the denials have already been categorical and cover every detailed allegation that has been put to him.
“He knows that anything he said would be picked apart and he is mindful that he has already got into unprecedented territory in terms of the statements made by Buckingham Palace [in which he denied having sex with Miss Roberts].
“If a stream of allegations appear and are answered point by point through the media, he knows that will only prolong and amplify a story that has been deeply uncomfortable for the Royal family.”
The scandal erupted just over a week ago when it emerged that the Duke had been accused in court papers of having sex with Miss Roberts in New York, London and the US Virgin islands, where Epstein has a home.
The Duke, 54, returned from his Christmas holiday in the midst of the row and has since remained at his home at the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park.
He has no plans for any public engagements until Jan 21, when he is due to be at the World Economic Forum at Davos, where he will be protected from the public. He has no current plans to visit the US.
It emerged on Saturday that just before Christmas, the Duke and the Duchess of York, his former wife, bought a seven-bedroom ski chalet in Verbier in Switzerland for as much as £13?million.
The deeds list the buyers as Andrew York and Sarah Ferguson. The house was purchased as a “family investment”, providing a future “nest egg” for the couple’s children, said a source close to the Duchess.
The purchase of the property will raise questions about how it was funded, although the Duke should still have cash left over from the sale of his former marital home to a Kazakh billionaire for £15?million in 2007.
The joint purchase of the chalet also shows that the Duke and Duchess remain close, despite the fact that they separated in 1992 after six years of marriage and divorced four years later.
Friends of the Duke have been keen to stress how he has put his family life back on track in recent years and had made efforts to turn around the problems of 2011 when the Epstein scandal first surfaced.
“There was a really good vibe about where life was heading, which is why it makes this all the more unfortunate,” said his friend.
“What has been lost in all of this is the fact that he and his team have worked genuinely hard since 2011 to think about what it was he was going to do.
“Until this happened he had been very upbeat and enthusiastic about what he was doing and the feedback from the visits and partner organisations was extremely positive. Within the wider Royal household it was being acknowledged that he had moved in the right direction.”
Epstein had brokered a plea bargain with prosecutors in Florida in which he accepted an 18-month jail term for pleading guilty to a relatively minor state charge relating to procuring a minor for prostitution – a 14-year-old girl. In exchange, all federal investigations into his alleged widespread sex abuse were halted.
The latest claims could now lead to a fresh investigation into Epstein that could drag the Duke into court.
The US Virgin Islands, where the age of consent is 18, has refused to rule out its own inquiry into allegations that Epstein organised orgies, involving under-age girls, and claims by Miss Roberts that she had sex with the Duke there.
Wayne Anderson, the chief deputy attorney general of the US Virgin Islands, said his office was “aware of this matter”. He added: “The Attorney General’s Office will not comment on whether or not it intends to or has opened an investigation into this matter.”
On Saturday Miss Roberts’s father Sky Roberts, 58, said that he feared for his daughter’s life and praised her courage in coming forward. He insisted his daughter was telling the truth in alleging that the Duke had sex her.
Mr Roberts said: “I’m worried about her safety. I hope she’s hiding real good because there are a lot of people out there and some of the people she’s accused are powerful people.
“If you have done something bad you should pay the price. It will all come out eventually.
“The government gave Jeffrey Epstein this deal. Anyone else who did what he did would be in jail for life.”
He added: “She’s not a liar. My kids were taught never to lie. I know she’s telling the truth about this. It worries me because they are powerful people.”