|(Top) Prince Andrew with his arm round Virginia Roberts when she was 17 and (above) the Duke of York with convicted billionaire Jeffrey Epstein
London, March 7: To be fair to Prince Andrew, there were no complaints after his trip to Calcutta in March last year in his capacity as a special representative for British trade and investment.
There were no stories about the Duke of York accepting hospitality from bent businessmen or turning up to parties where very young girls were passed around. For years, tabloid newspapers have had it in for 51-year-old Andrew, calling him Randy Andy because of his alleged weakness for women or Air Miles Andy because of his fondness for taking helicopters to attend functions which he could easily reach by car.
But matters came to a head last week when the Daily Mail stumbled across a photograph of Andrew with his arm round the bare waist of a teenage girl.
The girl in question was Virginia Roberts, a 17-year-old who had admitted she had met Andrew on several occasions. The problem was that Virginia had been acting as masseuse to an American billionaire, Jeffrey Epstein, who had been supplied by his contacts with a string of underage girls at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.
Epstein, 58, certainly had sex with them by his own admission.
Although Epstein pleaded guilty to procuring the girls for the purposes of prostitution and served 18 months in prison, Andrew had kept up his remarkably close friendship with the American.
There was a damning line in todays Daily Telegraph which gave a generous three pages to Andrews extracurricular activities as Britains roving trade ambassador.
The paper said: There is no suggestion the Duke had any sexual contact during his visit to Epsteins mansion.
It is well known that when a paper includes such a line, it does so to cover itself against legal action. It is also well known that when a paper says there is no suggestion the duke had any sexual contact, the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.
Andrews private secretary, Alastair Watson, shot off a letter to the Times: The duke has known Mr Epstein since being introduced to him in the early 1990s. The insinuations and innuendos that have been made in relation to the duke are without foundation.
Andrew is divorced from his wife, the Duchess of York, who is popularly known as Fergie, after her name, Sarah Ferguson. She has attracted notoriety in her own right, not least for being caught by a paparazzi sucking the toe of her American financial adviser. It is assumed the couple were not discussing her accounts since she was topless at the time.
To their credit, Andrew and Fergie have remained close and often go out as a family with their daughters, Eugenie and Beatrice (who have been invited to their cousin Williams wedding but the Duchess has not).
It has to be said that in the last couple of days, Andrew has done the impossible by replacing Col Muammar Gaddafi as the least popular man in the eyes of British newspapers.
There is the more relevant question of whether Andrews travels as a British trade ambassador represent value for money.
Since he appointed himself ambassador for British business in 2001, he has cost the taxpayer $15 million. Andrew does not get a salary but his expenses are legendary,
On one trip in 2007, he persuaded a Kazakh billionaire, Timur Kulibayev, to buy his old marital home in Sunninghill, Berkshire, for £15 million. What is curious is that the house, which was not attracting much interest from potential buyers, had an asking price of £13 million.
The new owner has not bothered to move into the house which lies overgrown and neglected. Now, it emerges that Epstein gave Fergie £15,000 to help her settle some of her debts. While many ministers are urging the government to sack Andrew as roving ambassador or scale back his role, David Cameron gave the Duke his support.
Camerons spokesman insisted Andrew enjoyed the Prime Ministers full confidence. The Prime Minister thinks he is doing an important job and is making a major contribution and he is supportive of him in that role. We are not reviewing that role in any way. The governments position is very clear: that we support him in his role as trade envoy. He has made a very important contribution to UK trade through the role and continues to do so.
But other ministers have been briefing newspapers to express their view that Andrew ought to go.
An unnamed government source was quoted as saying there would not be many tears shed if Andrew quit, and the BBC was told by a Downing Street source that one more serious story could make Andrews role untenable.