Prince Andrew: this has become a witch-hunt

I’m a republican, but I refuse to join this public shaming.

Kevin Rooney


I am a republican. An Irish republican from West Belfast, to be precise. I have never entered any of the interminable debates about the antics of the royals on the basis that I think the monarchy should be abolished. So it has been strange to find myself defending a royal all week, among friends, colleagues and family, amid the lynch-mob atmosphere prompted by the explosive Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that Prince Andrew is innocent of having sex with an underage girl, as he has been accused. Or that he was telling the truth in that interview about his friendship with the now-deceased convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who it is alleged trafficked a 17-year-old girl to him for sex. Or that he is a decent human being. I don’t know enough about Andrew or the evidence against him to make any judgement on those issues. But there is a lot that should concern us about the response to that interview.

It became obvious soon after it aired last Saturday that what Andrew had hoped would draw a line under the ongoing speculation about his friendship Epstein had spectacularly backfired. Commentators on the Sunday political shows all agreed the interview was a terrible mistake. Monday’s front pages put aside political rivalries to sing from the same hymn sheet.

The initial response focused less on whether Andrew was telling the truth and more on the fact that he had not shown any empathy with Epstein’s victims or apologised to them. Columnists and pundits queued up to agree that his lack of empathy was unforgivable and should have serious consequences. This was where my discomfort first set in.

Prince Andrew clearly agreed to this interview to clear his name. After all, he stands accused not just of being friends with Epstein, but also of committing crimes himself. He has been accused of having sex with a minor, as well as groping other women. It’s hard to think of an allegation more damning for someone in public life than having sex with an underage girl and knowingly associating with a paedophile.

If, for argument’s sake, Andrew is innocent, then it is reasonable to assume that he and his family have been through hell in recent years as rumours and speculation have circulated. If we think for just one minute about how that would feel if it happened to us or someone we love, we would surely not wish it on our worst enemy. But empathy with Andrew is clearly not the order of the day.

People are free to dislike Andrew and the tone he took in that interview. But when was it decreed that people fighting to clear their name can only defend themselves if they first apologise to people harmed by someone else? Prince Andrew claims he was unaware of and did not take any part in Epstein’s activities. There are hundreds of leading politicians, businessmen and scientists who have spent time with Epstein. Do they all need to apologise to his victims or be removed from public life?

As the angry reaction has grown, the debate has started to feel genuinely chilling. The country, it seems, expects public figures to say a certain prescribed thing. If they do not, then they must be condemned and cast out of civilised society. It was only a matter of hours after the interview aired that the clamour grew for Andrew to be stripped of his royal duties and salary. Which is of course what happened.

They got their scalp. A man was driven out of his job and his royal life within 48 hours, not because he was found guilty of any wrongdoing, but because he did an interview in which he said the wrong thing. That, according to some people I’ve spoken to, proves that we live in a civilised society.

It is striking how many people have focused on the fact that Andrew has been badly advised – that he should have been told to express more sympathy with the victims. It is as if we no longer care if an apology is genuine or heartfelt. Emily Maitlis wrote a fascinating piece in The Times about the interview, saying she was struck by how open Andrew was: ‘There is no question he shies away from. No issue with which he refuses to engage.’ But in the aftermath it was if it would have been better had he just issued an anodyne statement.

There were other things that jarred about the response. As a lifelong republican I object to the extravagance of the royal family. Just imagine what we could do with the money we spend on the royals. But there was something unpleasant about the relish with which people greeted the downfall of this privileged rich man. Even my respected friend and spiked associate editor, Joanna Williams, wrote that this man is ‘so privileged he leads a life unrecognisable to the vast majority of British citizens’. Well, yes. That’s because he’s a member of the royal family. I would kick them all out tomorrow. But until we do, by definition, they are not going to live the lives of ordinary people.

The question of Andrew’s guilt or innocence seems to exercise people less than his failure to express regret. His apparent memory problems and clumsy defences, mercilessly mocked on Twitter, clearly convinced no one. But few seem to care if they were accurate or not. Only a court of law can rule on whether Andrew is innocent or guilty, but given the tsunami of media coverage you would have thought that one or two of the journalists assigned to this story might have been asked to investigate whether Andrew’s alibi was true.

The entire UK media, it seems, were sent to that Pizza Express in Woking – where Andrew claims he was accompanying his daughter to a birthday party on the day of one of his alleged crimes. Pointless photos of it were taken. But no one seemed able to track down anyone who was supposedly at that child’s birthday party, and might have remembered having a royal in attendance. This media story has become more about reporting communal outrage than verifying Andrew’s claims.

That Andrew has stepped back from royal life is of no concern to me. I wish all the royals would. But the reaction to this interview concerns me hugely – from the virtue-signalling to the primacy of the victim, from the casual demonisation of privileged white men to the glee at a national shaming. All those jumping on this bandwagon better hope that they and their loved ones never have to face this kind of ritual public shaming.

Kevin Rooney is co-author of The Blood-Stained Poppy.

Picture by: Getty.

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29th November 2019 at 8:16 am

A lot of the posts here are missing the point of Kevin’s article, in essence be careful of applauding and joining in the persecution of anyone, as one day the media / witch hunt could come for you, or someone you like.
Then again a lot of the embittered angry left don’t give a hoot for anyone’s liberty. The politics of despair and resentment drags everyone down.

Mark Collings

26th November 2019 at 10:43 am

” A man was driven out of his job”??? Can someone give us a break, please? I honestly can’t believe I’m reading this from Kevin Rooney. A man who would often recount tales of shitting on the Union Jack during his youth. Does Spiked really have to try and shoehorn their ongoing messages into every story that may catch the attention? Just because you have thought up a catchy song title doesn’t mean the lyrics that follow will be any good. Lyrics before song title works best. An example of which we see here. I struggled to get to the end as I could practically hear the squeaking and grinding as Kevin tried to shoehorn the messages in ie – lynch mob attacks on white people, the irrational hatred of the privileged etc.. I’d be willing to buy some of it but the shag happy overprivelged simpleton in question – The Duke – has contributed nothing in my lifetime other than the occasional handshake and the frequent leg over. So I won’t buy it and as the Kevin Rooney of old would have likely said, when posed with a question on Royal hardships “Fuck ’em!”

Liz Davison

26th November 2019 at 6:40 am

I completely agree and I’m not a hard and fast Republican but merely someone sick of the fawning, and while glad we don’t have to endure a Presidential campaign every few years wish the Monarchy could be slimmed down and only those willing to work for their privileges were entitled to a salary. Andrew has simply blotted his copybook one time too many. This has been the proverbial last straw. Never forget that he has welcomed back Fergie (universally loathed) and pushed his spoilt daughters forward way beyond their capabilities. They may love their grandma and be quite sweet girls but they should Have been earning a proper living or simply have disappeared into their future lives, with very rich husbands. Princesses are for fairy tales not the 21st century. The only one most people have time for is Anne. She works hard, speaks plainly and many wish she could succeed the Queen. The sooner the peripheral Royals are banished, the better. But this creepy hounding of Andrew has been unedifying and hasn’t stopped yet.

Ness Immersion

25th November 2019 at 11:43 pm

Republicanism is one of those kneejerk positions that sounds logical. However the track record of constitutional monarchies is far better than republics at avoiding civil strife / civil war. So if you want your offspring to live in the type of society least likely to go to war internally then Britain, japan, most of the skandi countries, Oz, canada new zealand etc. It’s not a flippin coincidence that these are generally the nicer parts of the world to live in.
In terms of apologies from public figures, the twitterati are never satisfied, the only posture that has been observed to work is never apologise/ never explain.

Danny Rees

25th November 2019 at 11:38 pm

I am surprised nobody has pointed out yet but if this were a Muslim member of the Royal Family there would be no questioned asked.

Paul Ilott

25th November 2019 at 11:28 pm

Most of the ordinary public do not have to worry about ritual public shaming, because they are not priveleged Royals. They are entitled to be judgemental because they know Andrew will never have to face trial because of his position. Based on the evidence in the public domain so far it is not surprising many people have come to damning conclusions. Rooney is conflating virtue signalling and white privelege style gammon attacks, with what is a reasonable reaction in this case.

Ven Oods

25th November 2019 at 11:07 pm

Even someone who’s widely disliked is innocent until proven guilty.
Andrew came over as arrogant and privileged, but that’s no crime either.
The bit about letting down the family business was probably the only authentic comment.
He’s really been skewered for lack of empathy and a gross miscalculation of national mood, pre-election.
It would be interesting to learn how his alleged personal wealth was accumulated, though.

Jenny Clarke

25th November 2019 at 8:54 pm

I wasn’t aware that having sex with a 17 year old was having sex with someone under-age. The US has insane consent laws: in one state the age of consent is 21, but you can get married much younger with parental consent, in other states the age of consent is 13. And in some states underage marriage happens all the time in some communities, and no-one seems to care. Meanwhile in most of Europe the age of consent is between 15 and 16. A 17 year old is hardly a child, but one might ask what such a person was doing in Epstein’s house; was she consenting or duped and if consenting why is she now complaining? If duped why did she not complain at the time or very near to the event?
I can’t say I have a lot to say for Prince Andrew, who has always seemed to do foolish things, but he seems to be another white, heterosexual male who has been made the subject of a witch hunt. And if I were him I would not speak to the FBI at all.

steve moxon

25th November 2019 at 10:18 pm

Yes, the key point.
It’s seven years into adulthood as scientifically defined.
The idea that humans would not have evolved female cognition to deal with sex and all its ramifications by this point in maturation is utterly laughable. In fact cognitive changes PRECEDE physical ones in puberty.
There’s no suggestion that ‘randy Andy’ did anything to unfairly cajole this girl into sex.
The girl was fully ‘of age’, hob-nobbing in A-list company and paid a fortune.
Very many if not most girls — women (again, this ‘girl’ was 17) — would at least have gone along with it all, even if retrospectively expressing regret: a ubiquitous female phenomenon usually meaning simply mild embarrassment …. a realisation that a less ‘liberal’ sexual reputation bags better quality long-term partners.

L Strange

25th November 2019 at 8:40 pm

If he had apologised (on behalf of Epstein) it would have done no good anyway. It would have been deemed insufficiently grovelling because the acceptance of such apologies depends not on it’s sincerity or intended sympathy, but on the identity of the apologiser. Most people fall outside of the ‘approved’ categories.

In addition, blood would have been scented and it would have been taken as an admission of guilt of his own accusations and culpability in Epstein’s.

He’d have been better off not doing the interview at all. That was the wrong advice he followed.

Stephen J

25th November 2019 at 8:09 pm

I don’t know what you are complaining about Kevin…

It was just an ordinary shooting weekend?

Jim Lawrie

25th November 2019 at 4:20 pm

The security services always tell those in public office if they are associating with people like Epstein. Ignoring that advice it is their decision.

He can clear his name by cooperating with The FBI.

Lord Anubis

25th November 2019 at 4:38 pm

If I were Andrew, I would invite the FBI to come and talk to me in London any time they like. But I wouldn’t travel to the US. The US justice system is rather more to do with getting convictions than it is about convicting the right people and I would want nothing to do with it if I didn’t have to.

Willie Penwright

25th November 2019 at 9:41 pm

Very true and in the best tradition of British justice, he could be held without trial with Julian Assange while the USA prepares a torture dungeon for him.

Winston Stanley

25th November 2019 at 5:39 pm

Jim deserves an uptick for that comment (if not for much else).

The problems are institutional. Not only is monarchy obnoxious and completely ridiculous in this day and age but what about diplomatic immunity? Some ppl are above and beyond the law b/c of their status, even their job. That is entirely obnoxious. If we heard that about “royals” and “bishops” in the Middle Ages (which was so) we would think it obnoxious and contemptible.

Yet in our own day and age we are supposed to put up with that. Somehow certain ppl cannot be expected to be accountable to the law of the land. Instance, that USA woman who killed that young motorcyclist. We do not live in a society where the law and justice apply to all ppl equally. That is totally unacceptable in a supposedly modern, democratic society.

Maybe we should have a referendum in the matter and find out what the demos thinks. Of course us plebs should know our place, which is to obey the law, over which we have no control anyway, while our “betters” get away with literally anything, and shut our mouths. The state, our “betters”, know “best” and us thick silly plebs should just obey and be silent. I call BS on this.

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