Pressure on prince grows as BT distances itself from him and letter to the Times emerges
A claim by Prince Andrew during his controversial BBC interview to have first met the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in 1999 has been thrown into doubt after it emerged that the dukes previous chief of staff said the two men met in the early 1990s.
The claim was made by Alastair Watson, the princes private secretary for nine years until 2012, who wrote a letter to the Times in 2011 in order to reject reports that the Duke was a friend of Saif Gaddafi, son of the former Libyan dictator.
Addressing reports at the time about the princes relationship with Epstein, a US financier, Watson said the two men were introduced in the early 1990s and that insinuations and innuendos about Andrew were without foundation.
Buckingham Palace pushed back at suggestions of an apparent discrepancy in the account given by the prince in his BBC interview last weekend when he said he had met Epstein through the US financiers girlfriend in 1999.
The dukes words in the interview speak for themselves, said a spokesperson.
The development came as BT has said it will not work with a company that counts Prince Andrew as patron, amid a growing exodus away from the royal.
Andrews unrepentant interview about his friendship with the convicted child sex offender Epstein and alleged sexual encounters with a teenager had already led prominent businesses and other organisations to sever ties with his entrepreneurial scheme, Pitch@Palace, but the backlash is growing.
On Wednesday morning, the telecoms firm confirmed it was reviewing its ties with The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award (iDEA), an independent digital skills scheme with whom it is partnered, in light of its relationship with Andrew.
We have been working with the company since its launch in 2017 and our dealings have been with its executive directors not its patron, the Duke of York, a BT spokesperson said. As a leading provider of online digital skills training, iDEA was a natural partner for our new Skills for Tomorrow programme.
However, in light of recent developments we are reviewing our relationship with the organisation and hope that we might be able to work further with them, in the event of a change in their patronage.
Pitch@Palace has removed its web page listing corporate supporters, and the educational charity Outward Bound Trust, which has a long association with the royal family, will consider his role as patron at a board meeting this week.
On Tuesday, Andrew was due to visit emergency workers and evacuated residents in Stainforth and Fishlake, near Doncaster, during a tour with the army. But the the trip to flood-hit South Yorkshire was cancelled.
The duke had been due to offer his support and thanks to the emergency services but with an election campaign and a politician also visiting it was not felt appropriate for the visit to continue due to purdah rules, Buckingham Palace confirmed.
Meanwhile, two Australian universities severed ties on Tuesday with Pitch@Palace after the banking services company Standard Chartered withdrew its support for the scheme which claims to have generated more than 6,000 jobs citing commercial reasons.
On Monday, it emerged that KPMG, a founding partner of the initiative, would not be renewing its sponsorship, which ended on 31 October.
The Financial Times has reported that one prominent backer of Pitch@Palace is pushing for the Queens son to relinquish his association with the scheme, which he established in 2014.
Andrew, who has failed to express regret over his friendship with Epstein, is facing mounting scrutiny amid allegations he had sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who had allegedly been coerced by the financier when she was 17 and with whom the prince has been pictured. He has strenuously denied her claims.
Barclays recently renewed its sponsorship of Pitch@Palace, but is understood to be monitoring the situation, while AstraZenecas three-year partnership with the initiative is due to expire at the end of this year and is being reviewed.
Asked to confirm whether Andrew would remain as patron of the English National Ballet after reports that senior figures within the institution were lobbying for him to be removed, a spokesperson said trustees were discussing the matter.
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia concluded its involvement with Pitch@Palace in October and said it was committed to ensuring its campus remains a safe and inclusive place to work and study.
Bond University was preparing to consider working again with Pitch@Palace in 2020, but in light of recent events, the university does not intend to seek any further involvement. Murdoch University in Perth was reviewing its support of the PitchPalace event in 2020.
London Metropolitan University will review the princes role as patron at a board of governors meeting next week, and a student panel at Huddersfield University has passed a motion to lobby the duke to resign as their chancellor.
Cisco, the IT multinational, said it ended its involvement with Pitch@Palace in June 2019 without giving a reason.
Separately, the insurance company Aon asked for its logo to be removed from the Pitch@Palace website, saying it had never been involved in the scheme in any capacity.