Prince Andrew’s startling Epstein claim
Prince Andrew has reportedly told friends he only visited paedophile Jeffrey Epstein in New York to end their friendship.
The Queen's second son claims he went to see the disgraced billionaire financier in 2010 to cut contact, sources told the Sunday Times.
Andrew has been embroiled in scandal and dogged by allegations of impropriety with underage girls following the arrest and death of Epstein, The Sun reports.
The convicted child sex offender was found hanged in his cell in August, weeks after being charged with child-trafficking offences.
The prince has denied any wrongdoing during his friendship with Epstein, but has come under fire for visiting him after he was released from prison for child prostitution offences.
But a source told the newspaper: "The duke has been hammered for one mistake, which took place in 2010.
"He has apologised again and again for the error of judgment. But what he did wasn't criminal. It was a mistake.
"He went to see a friend to tell them he couldn't be their friend any more. Every example of anyone behaving like Epstein, who has later been discovered, has actually been very good at
keeping their cover.
"If you have someone like the duke, you probably don't show that side of yourself to him. That's the sadness of being someone like the duke, you sometimes don't see the real person because you are a bit of a trophy friend."
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the claims.
The financier's alleged sex slave Virginia Roberts claims she had sex with Prince Andrew aged 17 - which he strongly denies.
He was once pictured with his arm around her when she was 17 at a party thrown by billionaire Epstein. Supporters of the royal have suggested that photograph is fake.
Prince Andrew previously released a statement condemning Epstein, saying: "It is apparent to me since the suicide of Mr Epstein that there has been an immense amount of media speculation about so much in his life.
"This is particularly the case in relation to my former association or friendship with Mr Epstein. Therefore I am eager to clarify the facts to avoid further speculation.
"I met Mr Epstein in 1999. During the time I knew him, I saw him infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year. I have stayed in a number of his residences.
"At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction."
The Duke was last pictured with Epstein in New York in 2010 after the hedge fund manager had been released from prison and was a registered sex offender.
At least five women who say they were abused by Epstein have filed lawsuits against his AU$840 million estate after he killed himself.
All said Epstein used a "vast enterprise" of associates to recruit them, subject them to unwanted sex acts and keep them under his control.
He was arrested on July 6 over claims he was involved in the sex-trafficking of dozens of girls as young as 14 from at least 2002 until 2005.
Epstein had denied the charges and was being held in prison until his trial where he was facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted.