HUNTER: How Jeffrey Epstein exploited the prince and the press

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There was the mysterious Gatsby-like figure, a British socialite and a prince well-known for his questionable relationships.

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The News of the World ( NOTW ) was going to pay whatever it needed to get that story. There would be no quibbling,” legendary reporter Annette Witheridge told me Monday from her home in London.

Witheridge is my tabloid mother and probably the best reporter I’ve ever known. On Monday, the matter at hand was THAT photo of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein strolling through Central Park with Prince Andrew.

That weekend in 2010, the now defunct NOTW, received a tip-off that Andrew was going to be in New York City. Witheridge said the paper just didn’t know what the randy royal was doing in the Big Apple.

“In 2000, Larry Schwartzwald [another friend and former colleague of mine at the New York Post] snapped a photo of Ghislaine Maxwell and Prince Andrew at Nello’s, which was the spot to be if you wanted the paparazzi to snap your photo,” Witheridge recalled. “It was floated that Andrew and Ghislaine were an item, they were age-appropriate, so maybe.”

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But why Nello’s? Why not somewhere more discrete?

“She played him, and in the background pulling the strings was this Gatsby-esque character called Jeffrey Epstein,” she said.

So who was Epstein? The financier — who obtained mind-boggling wealth allegedly by insider trading — was in Witheridge’s words a “serious sex offender.” What was a member of the Royal Family doing with this sleazeball?

Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts Giuffre at socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s London townhouse.
Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts Giuffre at socialite Ghislaine Maxwell’s London townhouse. Photo by VIRGINIA ROBERTS /FACEBOOK

Typically, when Andrew was in New York City, he would stay at the British consulate and make diplomats aware of his movements. Not this time. The reporter suspected that the prince was crashing at Epstein’s posh mansion — but why?

“We didn’t know, but it was money for Fergie [Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson] who was always broke,” Witheridge said, adding that a New York visit from Andrew was always something consular officials dreaded.

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While Witheridge was trying to suss out the mysterious Epstein, she was more familiar with Maxwell. Once, she had followed the publishing heiress from party to party during a whirlwind night out.

The Fleet Street veteran called Maxwell “scary” and “fascinating.”

Friends with royalty. Ghislaine Maxwell, right, with the Duchess of York. It was Fergie who encouraged Prince Andrew to do the disastrous BBC TV interview. (Getty Images)
Friends with royalty. Ghislaine Maxwell, right, with the Duchess of York. It was Fergie who encouraged Prince Andrew to do the disastrous BBC TV interview. (Getty Images)

Now, sitting across from Epstein’s palace with a photographer, she had her window down when she heard British accents. Three minutes later, out came Prince Andrew and Epstein for a walk.

“The thing I’ve never been able to understand is that his security surely told him, ‘You do realize there are two cars of journalists outside?’” she said, adding that no doubt Andrew was told his 20-minute walk with Epstein in Central Park was a bad idea.

But if Prince Andrew was known for anything, it was not being discrete nor remotely clever.  Epstein played him and the press.

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Epstein had already done a 10-month jolt in a Palm Beach jail for soliciting an underage prostitute. Witheridge thinks Epstein believed photos with Andrew would help rehabilitate his battered image.

More than a decade later, Witheridge doesn’t believe the Epstein-Maxwell story is going to end anytime soon.

“The full story, we may never know … for instance, how Epstein died. We won’t if Maxwell was [allegedly] sexually abusing girls for Epstein … or was it for herself,” she wondered.

Years before, Witheridge met Maxwell briefly when the reporter was working for the heiress’s disgraced father, Robert Maxwell, at the Daily Mirror.

“She two years younger than me, but was very much assured of herself. I thought she was older than me. She was so bloody scary. It was like ‘I’m Ghislaine Maxwell … I want concert tickets, I want to meet pop stars’,” the reporter recalled. “She had this expectation that she could get whatever she wanted.

“After her father died, she went to New York. At first, she lived in a tiny studio apartment… and then she met Epstein. She was probably in love with him.”

And there is always a price in affairs of the heart.

bhunter@postmedia.com

@HunterTOSun

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