Prince Andrew halts public duties over sex scandal

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York visits the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital to open the new Stanmore Building, in London, Britain March 21, 2019. David Mirzoeff/ Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

Britain’s Prince Andrew stepped down from public duties on Wednesday, saying the controversy surrounding his “ill-judged” association with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein had caused major disruption to the royal family’s work.

Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, denies an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by his friend Epstein, who killed himself in a U.S. prison in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The scandal has escalated since Andrew did an interview with BBC TV, aired on Saturday. The interview has drawn widespread criticism in the media, where many have said his explanations were unsatisfactory, while lawyers for Epstein’s victims said theprince showed little sympathy for those abused.

As the story dominated news headlines for a fourth day and a slew of businesses distanced themselves from organisations and charities associated with the prince, he said he would step down from public life for the time being and speak to police about Epstein. 

“It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work,” he said in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission,” said Andrew, 59, whose official title is the Duke of York.

“Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”

Andrew’s conduct has overshadowed much of the political campaigning for Britain’s parliamentary election on Dec. 12. 

In a televised debate on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the monarchy was “beyond reproach” while opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the institution “needs a bit of improvement” and that there were questions to be answered.