Why the Duke spoke about those sex allegations

Prince Andrew Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Duke of York, HRH Prince Andrew

The Duke of York would like the world to focus on what he is doing to help young entrepreneurs.

In the present environment, it is a somewhat forlorn hope.

Tonight, at an entrepreneurs event in Davos, the Duke made his first public comments following the sex allegations made by Virginia Roberts in court papers lodged in Florida.

Before he spoke about the work he does with start-ups, he made an attempt to deal with the allegations which have dominated the headlines since before Christmas.

"I firstly think I must and want, for the record, to refer to events of the last few week," he said.

"And I wish to reiterate and reaffirm the statements that have been issued on my behalf by Buckingham Palace."

Those are the categorical denials which said that he had "never had any form of sexual contact or relationship with her".

"My focus is on my work and this evening allows me to tell you about the initiatives I'm passionate about," he continued.

Denial

I was asked a number of weeks ago by the Palace to introduce the entrepreneurs at the event at which the Duke spoke tonight.

And I was given the opportunity to spend some private time with him directly after the event.

My impression is that the Duke is resolute that at this stage he will go no further on any details about his relationship with Virginia Roberts, whom he has been photographed with.

You can ask him any way you want about the allegations made and he will simply repeat the denials Buckingham Palace has put out.

He has nothing further to add.

'Silence'

Not for him the approach of Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard lawyer, who was also named in the Florida court papers and has said he will not rest until he has proved that Ms Roberts claims were false.

Ms Roberts responded by saying that she would not be "bullied back into silence".

The Duke believes that he had to be seen to say something, hence the two sentences tonight.

Some advised against it, with Sir Menzies Campbell for example saying he should not go to Davos at all.

The Duke wholly disagreed.

The event tonight was always going to be public - in contrast to some of his previous events at Davos - and the team around him decided not to change tack when the sex allegations were made public.

Regret

Given that it was in front of a business audience, it was judged ideal as a venue to briefly mention the allegations and move on.

The Duke certainly regrets that he was so closely involved with Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted of sex offences in the US, and is alleged to have introduced Ms Roberts to the Duke.

But the Duke argues that his role as official government trade envoy, which was brought to an end in 2011, was not directly linked to the controversy at the time over his relationship with Epstein.

It was already planned that his role would become more informal. Any changes in role for the Royal Household take a long time to put in place.

The Duke sees himself as someone who can engage political leaders and business leaders.

And sometimes they are controversial.

Controversy

He makes no apology for that and believes that his rather more semi-official role is still of great use to the UK.

The Duke also feels he can bring together leading chief executives and smaller businesses to discuss financing and to build networks.

Judging by last night - there were a myriad of chief executives in the audience including Marc Bolland of Marks and Spencer and Iain Conn of Centrica - he can do that with some success.

Amid all the controversy, it's probably worth remembering the three entrepreneurs who pitched their ideas at the event tonight - Jonny Macneal of Insignia Technologies, Paul Brewster of Pure Marine Gen and Joachim Horn of Sam Labs.

You may well be hearing a lot more about them in the future.