It's a photo that has haunted him for twelve years: In February 2011, the British newspaper "Daily Mail" published a picture of Prince Andrew, in which he can be seen together with the then 17-year-old Virginia Roberts Giuffre. He put his hand around her waist and they both smile. In the background stands Ghislaine Maxwell. The photo is said to have been taken on March 10, 2001 at Maxwell's London home - by convicted and now deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. For Roberts Giuffre, it is evidence that Prince Andrew was implicated in Maxwell and Epstein's machinations. For years she has claimed that she was repeatedly forced to have sex with the royal.
Prince Andrew vehemently denies it. He never met Virginia Roberts Giuffre, the photo was a fake, he explained in a 2019 interview with the "BBC". Maxwell, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison last year for trafficking in minors for abuse purposes, argues the same way. "It's fake. I don't believe for a second that it's real, in fact I'm sure it's not real," she said in a recent interview from prison.
The "Daily Mail" now leads to new evidence for the authenticity of the photo. When the newspaper first published Virginia Roberts Giuffre's photo and story in 2011, a reporter and New Zealand photographer Michael Thomas spoke to the American-born, who now lives in Australia. Roberts Giuffre showed him the original photo and he snapped it a total of 39 times to publish one of them in the article, photographer Thomas said.
The interesting thing: He photographed not only the front but also the back of the picture. There is a March 13, 2001 date stamp and a reference to where it was developed, namely at a Walgreens branch near Virginia Roberts Giuffre's US home at the time in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In 2019, the "Daily Mail" published an article in flight logs, according to which Virginia Roberts Giuffre flew from the USA to London on March 9, 2001. A day later she is said to have met Prince Andrew, been to the Tramp nightclub with him and then been forced to have sex with the royal at Ghislaine Maxwell's house - after said photo was taken. On March 11, 2001, Roberts Giuffre flew back to the United States and apparently had the image developed two days later.
Photographer Michael Thomas told the Daily Mail: "I was holding the original photo in my hand. It was a standard 10x15 print that you could get from any developer back then. It wasn't sharp because it had been developed in 2001. You had kept it for ten years when I saw it. It exists." He finds it "ridiculous" and "absurd" that both Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell repeatedly speak publicly of a fake. So was the notion that Virginia Roberts Giuffre's picture might have been manipulated before she showed it to him.
"I want this all to end. I don't want to get emails every six months from people saying it's fake. Hopefully people can stop looking at conspiracies," said Michael Thomas.
He still keeps the duplicates he made in 2011 on a hard drive in his office. However, one question still remains unanswered: Where is the original image from 2001 located? In 2011, Virginia Roberts Giuffre allegedly gave the photo to the FBI for investigative purposes. It is unclear whether the authority gave her back the original picture or just a copy. She later testified that the photo could be stored in some boxes as a result of her move to Australia. Either way: The original remains lost.
Sources: Daily Mail, BBC