Britain's Prince Andrew delivers the keynote speech of the Japan-UK security cooperation conference in Tokyo. File photo: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara.

The Duke of York believes he is at the centre of a "witch-hunt" after allegations he slept with a 17-year-old "sex slave" gained further momentum yesterday.

Friends of Prince Andrew say "there is not one shred of evidence" to suggest he had sex with a teenage victim of paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein.

And they insisted his lawyers have "serious doubts" about the veracity of the now notorious picture of the duke grinning broadly with his arm around the bare midriff of Virginia Roberts in 2001.

Andrew’s allies went on the offensive a day after Miss Roberts challenged him to "come clean" about his friendship with Epstein.

At a New York court on Tuesday, she said the duke "knows exactly what he has done". And her lawyers last night reaffirmed their belief that the photograph of Andrew and Miss Roberts was real, saying the ‘FBI has never questioned its authenticity’.

But in some of the strongest rebuttals to date, sources close to Andrew said the allegations "feel like a witch-hunt with absolutely no evidence" of any wrongdoing. One ally said defiantly: "Yes, he does know exactly what he’s done... nothing." 

Andrew has faced repeated allegations that he had sex three times with a 17-year-old Miss Roberts, who is now a 36-year-old married mother of three called Virginia Roberts Giuffre.

Prince Andrew strenuously denies the allegations of ‘impropriety with underage minors’ as "categorically untrue". And royal sources yesterday insisted Andrew did not remember ever meeting Miss Roberts.

‘Her claims are categorically untrue,’ a source told the Evening Standard. "Sadly, if you go through her testimony there are so many inconsistencies. The judge said five years ago that testimony was immaterial and impertinent to any application, and should be stricken. There was not one shred of evidence incriminating the duke then and nothing has changed."

The source also dismissed claims that Miss Roberts went to Tramp nightclub in London with the duke where he drank cocktails. "The duke doesn’t drink, he is teetotal, anyone who really knows him knows that," the source said. "One should ask if Miss Roberts, now Giuffre, believed this, why did she not say something in 2011 when this all first started?"

Andrew’s lawyers have repeatedly asked to be shown the original photograph of him with Miss Roberts, which has become the defining image of the scandal.

One source said the prince has "absolutely no recollection" of the picture ever being taken. The ally added: "I understand his legal team have asked to have proper sight of the original photograph so they can carry out their own investigation as they seriously doubt its veracity."

But last night one of Miss Roberts’ lawyers Sigrid McCawley, said: "The photograph of Prince Andrew grabbing 17 year old Virginia Robert’s waist in Ghislaine Maxwell’s townhouse is real.

"The photograph is presently held in the FBI’s files as indicated on the redacted FBI form that was recently unsealed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.

"The FBI has never questioned its authenticity... The bumper-sticker denials Prince Andrew employs will gain him nothing when all the evidence is made available."

Among the documents recently unsealed was a form written by an FBI agent after Miss Roberts was interviewed in March 2011. The form states that FBI agents collected 20 original photographs from her which are understood to include the one of her with Prince Andrew.

The duke, who continued to fraternise with Epstein even after he was let out of prison for sex offences, has said he is ‘appalled’ by Epstein’s alleged offences and has insisted he himself has done nothing wrong.

Daily Mail