Britain's Prince Andrew File picture: David Parker/AP

London – Britain's Prince Andrew said on Wednesday he is stepping back from public duties with the queen's permission.

Andrew said it has become clear to him in recent days that his association with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has become a “major distraction” to the royal family’s work.

He said he regrets his association with the former US businessman and that he “deeply sympathises” with his victims.

The prince said his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, had given him permission to step back from royal duties.

Andrew has been heavily criticised for his performance in a TV interview on Saturday in which he failed to express concern for Epstein’s victims.

He seemed to show no remorse for his close association with a convicted sex offender who had abused many underage girls.

Some charities that he has worked with as a patron have said they were reviewing their association with the prince because of his actions.

Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, robbing his alleged victims of a chance for their day in court. His death on August 10 in a New York prison has been ruled a suicide by the city’s medical examiner.

Andrew said Epstein’s suicide left many unanswered questions.

AP