Well, perhaps not any old rape but just the statutory variety. You know, when it’s all consensual, but one participant is below the age of consent. Let’s call it sexual assault, to be on the safe side – even if there was no violence involved.
That’s what the lawyers acting for Virginia Giuffre, née Roberts, called it. They brought a civil case, which the defendant, Prince Andrew, has just settled for something like £12 million.
Before we go on, let’s get one stipulation out of the way. Prince Andrew is a louche, not particularly bright man covered head to toe with Jeffrey Epstein’s sleaze, plus some of his own. His close friendship with the likes of Jeffrey and Ghislaine is in itself enough to drum him out of the royal family even if he kept his mitts off Virginia’s body.
Yet he wasn’t charged with befriending wrong people for wrong reasons. He was charged with sexual assault, albeit only in the civil courts. And my contention is that, had the case gone to trial, Andrew’s legal team would have walked it.
One fact currently in the public domain is that young Virginia was, not to cut too fine a point, a prostitute. This precise, stylistically neutral term describes a woman who exchanges sex for payment. I could also think of a few words that are less stylistically neutral, but the gentleman in me won’t allow it.
At the time in question, she was flown by private jet from one mansion to another to have sex with Jeffrey, his guests, possibly Ghislaine and, for all I know, household pets. The jets, mansions, clothes, expensive food and drink, possibly jewellery, probably cash were payments for the sexual services rendered.
Andrew was allegedly one guest entertained by Virginia, and she says Epstein ordered her to make herself available. As someone who strives to use words precisely, I’d like to offer a row of verbs all describing encouragement to action in an ascending sequence of imperativeness: suggest, ask, request, demand, order.
One word, order, stands out of this row. A suggestion may be ignored, a request denied, a demand resisted, but an order must be obeyed on pain of punishment. Whoever issues one must be in a position of institutional authority that enables him to enforce the order and punish non-compliance.
So what would have happened had young Virginia told Jeffrey, in what was probably her natural idiom, to stick his order where the sun don’t shine? How could he enforce and punish?
Virginia wasn’t a soldier who could be tried by military tribunal and shot before the ranks. The only punishment she could have suffered was dismissal from her job as prostitute in Epstein’s employ. She could have been held in breach of an unwritten contract she had entered of her own free will.
Since there was no coercion involved, the only thing that could be held against Andrew is that our daisy-fresh Virginia was at the time a few months short of the age of consent, 18 at that time and in that place.
Thus having sex with her was then against the law. However, that law was manifestly unjust – witness the fact that it was changed soon thereafter. And, as the Romans used to say, “lex iniusta non est lex”, an unjust law is no law.
Only 17 per cent of American girls bring an intact hymen to their eighteenth birthday, which isn’t surprising, considering they (and their British counterparts) have been educated since infancy in contraceptive techniques and sexual ballistics. Let’s put it this way: because sex has lost a moral dimension, Virginia and her coevals couldn’t be confused with Jane Austen’s debutantes.
But did Andrew actually defile young Virginia? Her word apart, the only piece of hard evidence is that notorious photograph, which proves that Andrew did know Virginia, though not necessarily carnally.
Andrew, on the other hand, denies having known her, carnally or otherwise, and claims the photo is a fake. Anyone familiar with Photoshop will know that faking an image in that fashion is a matter of minutes, so the claim is plausible.
However, when the photo first began to make the rounds in 2015, Andrew asked Ghislaine what she thought of it. In response, she sent him an e-mail, saying: “It looks real. I think it is.”
“Looks”? “Think”? Hardly a statement of certainty, is it? If I were Virginia’s solicitor, I’d be much happier with something like “Of course it’s real, don’t you remember, Andy? It was taken just after you bonked her the first time.”
One way to prove the photograph is genuine would be to present the original. However, Virginia claimed she had lost it, and I can’t help thinking that this piece of evidence lacks the strength to convince or convict.
The case against the Duke of York looks so weak that one may wonder why he chose to settle it, rather than going to trial, as was his stated intention. The answer seems obvious.
Dragging the case through public hearings would expose the royal family to even more humiliation than it has suffered already. The rumour has it that Prince Charles leaned on his wayward younger brother to settle, and this rings true. The Queen didn’t want this sleaze to rub off on her Jubilee, and she was understandably eager to draw the line under the whole sordid affair.
As it is, republican noises are getting louder, and I’m worried about the future of our monarchy. Those who think Britain could walk away from it whistling a merry tune are ignorant of the catastrophic constitutional implications.
The monarch is the ganglion on which every constitutional synapse of Britain converges. Tony Blair couldn’t even get rid of the post of Lord Chancellor, hard as he tried. He found, against his subversive instincts, that our ancient constitution would have become well-nigh inoperable as a result.
Removing the monarch would destroy every fibre of Britain’s body politic, which is another way of saying Britain would no longer be British. That’s why Andrew, Harry and all other culprits who jeopardise the dignity and grandeur of our central institution deserve whatever punishment they suffer.
If Andrew lives out his life penniless and friendless, I won’t shed a tear. But that doesn’t make him guilty of sexual assault any more than it makes Virginia the innocent victim of it. That £12 million is payment in the form of pay-off, and its size only means she is a great success in her chosen occupation.