The infamous photograph of Prince Andrew with his arm around the waist of a 17-year-old Virginia Roberts in Ghislaine Maxwell’s London flat is genuine and undoctored, according to two men who claim to have seen the original.
In his disastrous Newsnight interview with Emily Maitliss last month the Prince cast doubt on the 2001 photo, saying it was impossible to tell whether it had been faked and questioning whether that was his hand around her waist.
But tonight’s BBC Panorama investigation found that Roberts then-boyfriend Tony Figueroa said he saw the picture in the year it was taken – 2001 – and that Ms Roberts told him she had been forced to have sex with the prince.
And journalist Michael Thomas, who was the first to copy the photograph in 2011, is convinced the picture is genuine because he found it in the middle of a bundle of photographs.
He said: ‘It wasn’t like she pulled the photo of Prince Andrew out, it was just in amongst the rest of them.
‘They were just typical teenage snaps. There’s no way that photo is fake’.
Andrew was pictured with his arm around Virginia Roberts’s waist at Ghislaine Maxwell’s house in London in March 2001, although he has raised doubts about the veracity of the photograph
The photo of the pair – with Maxwell also in frame – was first published in 2011 after the Mail on Sunday tracked down Virginia Giuffre and paid her $160,000 for her story.
This year palace sources started suggesting the photo was a fake – a claim Andrew stopped just short of making in his interview.
He told BBC Newsnight: ‘You can’t prove whether or not that photograph is faked because it’s a photograph of a photograph of a photograph.’
‘It’s very difficult to be able to prove it but I don’t remember that photograph being taken…That’s me but whether that’s my hand…I have simply no recollection of the photograph ever being taken.’
The Prince also said he thought he had never been upstairs in his friend Ghislaine Maxwell’s house, where the photo appears to have been taken.
But Virginia Giuffre, nee Roberts, told Panorama tonight the photo is genuine and she gave the original to the FBI in 2011.
She told Panorama: ‘I think the world is getting sick of these ridiculous excuses. It’s a real photo. I’ve given it to the FBI for their investigation and it’s an authentic photo. There’s a date on the back of it from when it was printed.’
An affidavit from a man she was dating in 2001 that supports her story about the photo.
Tony Figueroa says in his statement that he saw the picture of the prince and the teenager back then, and that Virginia Giuffre had told him she had been forced to have sex with the prince.
The programme also spoke to the freelance photographer who first copied the picture in 2011.
Michael Thomas is convinced the picture is genuine because he found it in the middle of a bundle of photos Virginia handed him from her travels with Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell.
Michael Thomas said: ‘It wasn’t like she pulled the photo of Prince Andrew out, it was just in amongst the rest of them.
‘These were 5×7 photos that looked like they had come from Boots the chemist, nothing more complicated than that.
‘They were just typical teenage snaps. There’s no way that photo is fake.’
The programme also uncovered evidence that supports Ms Roberts’ claim that she gave the original to the FBI.
A redacted court document shows she gave 20 photos to the FBI in 2011 and they were scanned front and back. But there are only 19 photos shown in the public version.
The FBI assigned sequential reference numbers to both the front and back of each photo for evidential purposes.
But two reference numbers – 03956 9431 and 03956 9432 – are missing from the publicly available document.
Panorama was told those two numbers are for the front and back of the Prince Andrew photo and that it was removed from the public document to protect his privacy.
Virginia Roberts has continually alleged that she was trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and had to have sex with Andrew, which the Duke of York categorically denies.
Andrew was interviewed by Emily Maitlis in a Newsnight programme shown on November 16
The 35-year-old, who has said she was forced to sleep with Prince Andrew when she was 17, also claimed tonight that she ‘had to keep him happy’.
She told the BBC’s Panorama in an interview due to be shown on BBC One at 9pm tonight that ‘The people on the inside are going to keep coming up with these ridiculous excuses – like his arm was elongated or the photo was doctored, or he came to New York to break up with Jeffrey Epstein.
‘I mean, come on, I’m calling BS on this, because that’s what it is.’
She also told the BBC that she knew she ‘had to keep him happy because that’s what Jeffrey and Ghislaine (Maxwell, Epstein’s then-girlfriend) would have expected from me.’
Miss Roberts, now known as Virginia Giuffre, urged the British public to ‘stand up beside me to help me fight this fight’ and ‘not accept this as being OK’.