Newspaper headlines: Prince Andrew sex claim denial and Conservative poster 'fib'

Buckingham Palace's denials of "any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors" on the part of Prince Andrew dominate front pages, which recount allegations made in US court papers.

The Daily Mail prints five pages on the subject, including detailed claims made by an unnamed woman in the civil suit against the American government, over its prosecution of a financier accused of involvement in sex trafficking. They include allegations that she was forced to have sex with the prince in London, New York and in the Caribbean. As the Sun reports, Buckingham Palace has described the claims as "categorically untrue".

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The prince is not party to proceedings in the Florida court but is named as part of evidence relating to the wider case of alleged trafficking by Jeffrey Epstein. The Mail points out that Andrew remained "chummy" with Epstein even after the American was convicted of abusing underage girls. "Three years after Epstein's downfall in 2008, the friends were photographed strolling together in New York's Central Park," the paper says, adding that the subsequent embarrassment cost the prince his job as a UK trade envoy.

This was not the first time Andrew's judgement had been called into question, says the Daily Mirror's Chris Bucktin as he describes the prince's lunch with a "notorious" member of the former Tunisian regime and a holiday with a Libyan gun smuggler.

"In his decade as trade ambassador he cost the taxpayer nearly £4m on 76 foreign trips, not including the cost of bodyguards," says the Daily Express, recalling his nickname of "Airmiles Andy". It adds: "On one three-day visit abroad he spent £60,000 of taxpayers' cash to rent a private jet."

Some papers focus on others named in the court papers, with the Independent chronicling Epstein's rise from a tutor and son of a Brooklyn parks department worker to Wall Street high-flyer who left to set up an investment house for billionaires. "Epstein emerged as a jet-setting power player. His philanthropy brought him into contact with physicists and presidents alike," the paper says.

However, the Times says Epstein is accused of supplying under-age girls to high-profile contacts so he could gather information to use in blackmail. "The American financier courted political and business leaders, royalty and celebrities. They were invited to his nine-storey house on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, his house in Palm Beach, Florida, and a private island in the Caribbean," it says.

Campaign 'fib'?

Much attention is paid to the Conservatives' launch of the party's election campaign, with the Guardian's Alberto Nardelli analysing the poster urging voters to "stay on the road to a stronger economy". He writes: "[It] shows a long straight road amid bucolic countryside under a tranquil blue sky... With the road cutting the image in two, David Cameron is pitching his tent firmly in the middle, just as the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, this week moved to seize the centre ground for the Labour party."

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Mr Cameron is likely to be able to drill home his message by paying for more posters than his opponents, according to the Guardian's front page, which predicts the Tories will be able to spend three times as much as Labour on campaigning.

However, the i and Daily Mail point out critics' complaints that the Conservative poster's claim the government has "halved" the economic deficit is misleading. More common economic calculations would put the reduction closer to a third, they say. It prompts Times cartoonist Peter Brookes to draw Mr Cameron as a hedgehog, flattened under a car tyre in the middle of the road on the poster.

In the Mail's opinion, the campaign launch and "fib" marked a "deeply unimpressive" start to election year. It calls on the PM to "raise his game" to avoid a Labour-led government which would "wreck the economy all over again".

However, the Daily Mirror quotes Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable claiming the Conservatives' economic plan would put voters on a "highway to hell" and offers its own interpretation, saying the PM is on the "road to ruin". It wonders: "Which Tory kid thought it was a good idea to use a road that resembles the route to a chateau or an earl's country estate?"

Too posh?

On the eve of the PDC World Championship final, papers turn their attention to the growing popularity of darts. It's a sport that Martin Kelner, of the Guardian, once "watched ironically". He confesses: "Distracted by fat men with inadvisable haircuts, gangs of spectators dressed as penguins, and the late Sid Waddell's sublimely nonsensical commentary, I somehow failed to give credit to the players for the steely nerve it takes to hit a match-winning double in the rumbustious atmosphere of a packed Alexandra Palace."

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Looking back at jokes about "council houses with two speedboats in the drive", spawned by the darts-based quiz show Bullseye, the writer wonders if it was class prejudice that led to the sport being undervalued despite the skill and dedication required by top players.

No longer, according to the Mail's Robert Hardman, who reports from the 2,500-strong crowd with an "audience profile... younger than at say, Wimbledon's Centre Court or a Twickenham international. But... every bit as posh as either of those'". Pointing out that Prince Harry was in the crowd earlier in the week, he notes a "familiar moan" about "a middle-class breed who come to dip a toe in working-class culture and then regale dinner parties with hilarious stories of their wild night out amid the common people". But he argues that most spectators have a genuine appreciation of the game.

Meanwhile Ruth Harrison, in the Sun, reckons it's "no longer a sport reserved only for blokes down the pub, smoking and downing beer". She writes: "Darts is trendy and the girls love to have a ball, looking out for the bullseye." Women account for 30% of the 50,000 ticket sales, Harrison writes, and she meets some including a "banana woman", who got the wrong costume to accompany a friend dressed as Batman's sidekick Robin, and an expectant mother who painted "180" on her stomach in a bid to get on TV.

Let slip

Former England captain Steven Gerrard's announcement that he will call time on his 25-year Liverpool career makes the front page of the Daily Star, which speculates that he will rake in £90m with a summer move to an American MLS outfit. It even warrants an editorial in the Daily Mirror, which notes Gerrard's "unusually lengthy love affair" with his hometown club and says: "Delaying his departure until the end of the season will give both sides time to get used to the idea of separation."

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His former teammate Jamie Carragher is perplexed at the Anfield club allowing its captain to "drift away", writing in the Mail that Gerrard could have taken on some coaching responsibilities in the way Ryan Giggs has at Manchester United. "I am dismayed that Liverpool are letting that experience leave," Carragher says, reminding readers that Gerrard stayed loyal to Liverpool during a five-year absence from the Champions League despite being courted by teams like Real Madrid. "No other player with his talent would have done that."

Still, the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe reckons Gerrard could be back at Anfield next winter, via a loan during the MLS close season. Hailing Gerrard's loyalty, the writer remembers how the midfielder's decision to commit to Liverpool, instead of moving to Chelsea, was rewarded with Champions League victory against AC Milan in 2005. However, he wonders whether Gerrard would have stayed after that had he known the club's trophy haul would be limited to one FA Cup and a League Cup.

Former manager Gerard Houllier writes in the Guardian that "Stevie" was a "natural-born leader" who always delivered in big games. "He is the one player, from a personal point of view as well as a professional one, that stands out during my whole career."

Debate about whether Gerrard is Liverpool's best-ever player is "pointless", according to the Times's Tony Evans, who says he's the player you'd choose to "take a single shot to save your life". The Liverpool-supporting football editor names "poleaxing Gary Naysmith, of Everton, in a frantic derby match" alongside Champions League victory in Istanbul among Gerrard's "greatest moments", saying it exemplified the midfielder's "explosiveness". He writes: "The Kop had not seen such vim and vigour in a red shirt since the days of Emlyn Hughes."

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