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Friday, May 24, 2024

Prince Andrew makes ‘unprecedented’ request for evidence in sex abuse case to be kept secret

Prince Andrew makes ‘unprecedented’ request for evidence in sex abuse case to be kept secret

British witnesses including the Duchess of York and the Prince of Wales could be called to testify in the trial

The Duke of York has made an “unprecedented” request for all witness testimony taken in his sexual abuse case to be kept secret, it has emerged.

He wants depositions, including his own, to remain under seal, even if neither party declares the evidence confidential.

Lawyers for the Duke’s accuser, Virginia Giuffre, said there was “no logic or authority” for such a provision.

The revelation was made in a letter from Sigrid McCawley, for Ms Giuffre, to Andrew Brettler, the Duke’s lead counsel, dated December 24. It was lodged with the court on Tuesday as part of a fresh bid to get the civil case thrown out.

Mr Brettler has asked a judge to halt proceedings, claiming that Ms Giuffre was not a US resident and did not live in Colorado, as her lawsuit suggested.

Instead, he said she lived with her husband and three children in Perth, Australia, and was therefore unable to make the claim under federal court law.

Ms Giuffre, now 38, has alleged she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew on three separate occasions in 2001, when she was 17. She is seeking unspecified damages.

Both sides have indicated that they plan up to 12 depositions. Ms Giuffre’s legal team has indicated that at least two of theirs will involve British witnesses, suggesting that they could include the Duke’s former wife, the Duchess of York, and even the Prince of Wales.

Before challenging the court’s jurisdiction, the Duke had been due to send proposed dates and locations for his own deposition by Monday, December 27.

He had already asked for a three-week extension to respond to discovery requests “in light of the holidays and Covid.”

Ms McCawley expressed frustration with the latest attempt to delay proceedings on an issue that could have been raised sooner.

She said they had asked three times for the Duke to select a date for his own deposition yet he had never responded.

Ms McCawley also noted that as part of the discovery process, the Duke’s lawyers had already asked for proof that Ms Giuffre was a citizen of Colorado and that they were due to respond with the relevant documents by January 14, as previously agreed.

She referred to a draft protective order, drawn up at the Duke’s request, which would prevent the disclosure of certain information.

Too late to ask court for confidentiality order

But she added: “The main substantive disagreement in the parties’ drafts is your inclusion of an unprecedented paragraph, which would allow you to keep deposition materials sealed from the public even if neither party designates the underlying testimony as confidential.”

She added that because there was “no logic or authority for such a provision” and because it was deemed too late to ask the court for a confidentiality order, they would raise the issue in court next Tuesday, when judge Lewis Kaplan hears arguments on the Duke’s motion to have the case dismissed.

Ms McCawley told Mr Brettler that they “will be able to establish” that the New York federal court had jurisdiction.

But she said that even if not, Ms Giuffre “would simply refile her claims” in New York state court, warning: “The parties in this action will need to resolve this dispute one way or another.”

A source close to the Duke said: “Such a request or offer to keep things confidential is certainly not unprecedented, rather it would be considered standard practice in any high profile case. However, it seems like Ms Giuffre and her lawyers want to try this case in the media instead of a courtroom.”

If current proceedings are abandoned and the lawsuit is refiled, Ms Giuffre would have to start the entire legal process from scratch.

Her current claim was filed in August under New York's Child Victims Act (CVA), which lifted the statute of limitations in cases involving alleged sexual offenses against minors.

However, the CVA deadline expired just days later, meaning that she would have to find another means of filing a fresh lawsuit against the Duke.

Duke's business enterprise reports significant fall in assets

Prince Andrew’s flagship business enterprise has reported a significant drop in assets.

Accounts published on Wednesday show that Pitch@Palace, his Dragons Den-style initiative, has total assets of £726,324, down from £1,158,369 the previous year.

The business, which previously had 15 employees, now has a monthly average of three, including sole director Arthur Lancaster, an accountant who took over to oversee what is left of the company in an administrative role.

The initiative, which brokered deals between tech start-ups and wealthy investors, was thrown into disarray by the Duke's disastrous Newsnight interview in November 2019, after which its charitable arm was wound up as corporate sponsors withdrew support.

The global arm, a private limited company, continued however, albeit with all references to the Duke removed from its homepage.

What remained of the brand was moved out of its Buckingham Palace base to a nearby office space in London and now uses only Mr Lancaster’s office address.

The accounts reveal that at the end of last March Pitch@Palace had almost £648,000 in cash, down from almost £1.18 million the previous year.

An accompanying note suggests that despite the Duke’s shattered reputation, there remain plans to relaunch the initiative. It says its planned activities were wound down due to Covid and would resume when restrictions were lifted.

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