British lawyers have cast doubt on the strength of Prince Andrew’s defence to Virginia’s Giuffre’s lawsuit and whether it can help him settle the case, thereby avoiding a “disastrous” court trial.
In papers filed with the US district court on Wednesday, Andrew denied sexually abusing Giuffre when she was a minor and also sought to bar his accuser’s claim on grounds including the time elapsed since the alleged offences – despite a New York statute having extended the window for child victim claims – and her “wrongful conduct”.
Much of the document was made up of repetitive responses either denying allegations made by Giuffre in the complaint, or stating that Andrew “lacks sufficient information to admit or deny”.
Nick Goldstone, head of dispute resolution at Ince Gordon Dadds LLP, said: “There are certain things where it is ludicrous for him to say he has insufficient information to admit or deny. Six months on, he has at least put forward a defence and that is interesting, but it does appear to be a boilerplate exercise, rather over-enthusiastically deployed.”
Among the allegations from Giuffre’s complaint that Andrew said he could not admit or deny were that:
Andrew and convicted sex-trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell have been photographed at numerous social events together.
Jeffrey Epstein pleaded guilty in Florida in 2008 to the charge of procuring a minor for prostitution.
Andrew had been on Epstein’s private plane and stayed at some of his homes.
The infamous photograph depicts Andrew, Giuffre and Maxwell at Maxwell’s home.
Andrew admitted in the disastrous 2019 Newsnight interview to having been on Epstein’s jet and having stayed at several of his properties, while Epstein’s conviction is a matter of public record. The prince’s court papers also raised eyebrows for their denial that Maxwell, whom Andrew met when she was at university, was a close friend.
Richard Spafford, partner at Reed Smith, said: “It is possible to have met someone at university 40 years ago, but not be close friends with them later and that’s perfectly reasonable but I think it’s likely to be an issue in the case and it’s an issue on which there will be argument and discovery and I suspect that the plaintiff side won’t accept what Prince Andrew is saying.”
The defences in the court papers contain no reference to previous claims made by Andrew that he cannot sweat (Giuffre had alleged that he got sweaty on a dancefloor with her in 2001) and that he visited a Pizza Express on the day of the claimed sexual encounter with Giuffre.
Spafford said it was “interesting” they were not in the document, as might have been expected, and suggested that may mean they are not points his legal team mean to pursue. He described the document as a “standard approach” in that it contained forceful denials “but that’s frequently followed by an attempt to settle”.
Mark Stephens, a partner at Howard Kennedy and expert in reputation management said: “My read of it is that he’s taking an aggressive position in litigation, is indicating that he’s prepared to go through with it to improve his leverage for settlement.” With the Queen’s platinum jubilee approaching next week, Stephens did not rule out an attempt at a speedy settlement but he said, following the prince’s filing, it was still clear that Giuffre’s lawyer, David Boies, “holds most of the cards”.
Boies has said his client would be unlikely to be interested in a “purely financial settlement” but lawyers who spoke to the Guardian suggested it was imperative for Andrew to settle.
Goldstone said of the filing by Andrew’s lawyers: “It’s a ‘[throw in everything but the] kitchen sink’ exercise which I think is designed probably to show the world that he’s ready for a fight, whilst, in my view, he clearly isn’t ready for a fight. He shouldn’t be volunteered to be cross-examined on this pleading because it’s a nightmare. It’s not a defence or a response document that would fill me with fear if I was acting for the claimant. There has to be a way out of this for Andrew that will avoid a jury trial because a jury trial is a complete disaster.”