Prince Andrew steps down from public duties

Prince Andrew has stepped down from public duties, 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.

Queen's 2nd son has been caught up in sex scandal involving Jeffrey Epstein

Prince Andrew, seen in this file photo, is stepping down from public duties. (Sang Tan/The Associated Press)

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.

The scandal has escalated since Andrew's rambling explanations in a controversial TV interview that aired on Saturday, leaving many viewers incredulous. His apparent lack of compassion for Epstein's victims also drew widespread condemnation.

Epstein died in August after being found unresponsive in his prison cell while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. The New York City chief medical examiner ruled the death a suicide by hanging. Both Epstein's brother and the lawyers who represented him in his criminal case have expressed doubts about the medical examiner's conclusion.

As the story dominated news headlines for a fourth day, a slew of businesses distanced themselves from organizations and charities associated with the prince.

In a statement issued by Buckingham Palace, Andrew said the scrutiny had become a "major disruption" to the work of the Royal Family and the charities associated with him.

"Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission," he said.

In an interview with CBC News just before the statement came out, Sunday Times senior writer John Arlidge said he sees no way back for Andrew from what he calls "reputation suicide."

"If this were a chief executive of a corporation, if this were the head of any kind of institution, their feet wouldn't have touched the ground," said Arlidge. "They would have been out faster than you can say, you know, disgrace."

Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced former financier, died in custody in August 2019 after having been convicted of numerous sexual offences. (New York State Sex Offender Registry/The Associated Press)

The statement from the palace also said Andrew is "willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

Arlidge, who has interviewed Andrew one-on-one, says that's the least he could do.

"That would be the absolute baseline starting point, because he has to make an enormous gesture to overcompensate massively for the damage that he's done to himself. And that would be a very, very good place to start."

Andrew's conduct has spilled over into political debate ahead of Britain's Dec. 12 national election. Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said there were questions to be answered, although Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the monarchy was "beyond reproach."

Andrew has been under scrutiny over his friendship with Epstein for the past several years. In his statement Wednesday, he said, "I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein. His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathize with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure."

Denies sex claims

Andrew quit as Britain's roving trade ambassador in 2011 after being lambasted for his links to the financier, who was jailed in 2008 for child sex offences.

Then in 2015, one of Epstein's accusers, Virginia Giuffre, said she was forced to have sex with Andrew in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island between 1999 and 2002, when she says Epstein kept her as a "sex slave."

In his BBC interview, he categorically denied the sex claims and gave a series of explanations as to why her account was not true, such as not being able to sweat and being at a pizza restaurant in the suburban town of Woking, provoking derision and ridicule in newspapers and social media.

Rather than drawing a line under the accusations, the interview led to more questions and businesses pulling out of supporting his charities and Pitch@Palace scheme to help young tech entrepreneurs.

From helicopter pilot to 'Airmiles Andy'

As a young man, Andrew was one of the most popular royals, acclaimed by the British press for his active service as a helicopter pilot during the 1982 Falklands War and earning the nickname "Randy Andy" for his courting of glamorous girlfriends.

He turned heads when he dated U.S. actress Koo Stark, who had appeared in a soft-porn film.

But the once second-in-line to the throne dropped in the public's affection, and as he slipped down the line of succession, he was dubbed "Airmiles Andy" over accusations of a lavish jetset playboy lifestyle, funded by the taxpayer.

His 1986 marriage to flame-haired Sarah Ferguson, which was hailed as a breath of fresh air to the monarchy, ended in divorce a decade later, but she remains one of his strongest supporters.

"Andrew is a true+real gentleman and is stoically steadfast to not only his duty but also his kindness + goodness," she wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Queen Elizabeth appeared at reception on Wednesday to present the naturalist David Attenborough with an award. She made no comment about Andrew.

With files from CBC News