A federal judge in the United States has sensationally ruled that Virginia Roberts Giuffre's civil sex abuse lawsuit against Britain's Prince Andrew can continue.
In a major blow for the royal the judge denied "in all respects" the Duke of York's request to dismiss the case.
Roberts Giuffre has long said the late financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his then girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, herself recently convicted of sex trafficking, forced her into sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17.
Prince Andrew's lawyers said the case should be thrown out, citing a 2009 deal she signed with Epstein but a New York judge has ruled that the claim could be heard.
Prince Andrew has consistently denied the allegations, stating that he did not participate in the sexual exploitation of minors or witness such behaviour.
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit was outlined in a 46-page decision by Judge Lewis A Kaplan of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
At a hearing on January 4, Andrew's lawyers argued that a US$500,000 ($730,000) settlement Epstein and Roberts Giuffre reached in 2009 should prevent her from suing him. But District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan said the settlement, made public earlier this month, is too vague to specifically protect Andrew from a lawsuit.
The deal with Epstein bars Roberts Giuffre's from pursuing litigation against Epstein and anyone who could be a "potential defendant."
The prince's lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, seized on that phrase to say that the settlement protects Andrew. But the judge disagreed, saying the term is so expansive as to have almost no meaning.
The judge said the 2009 agreement cannot "demonstrate, clearly and unambiguously" show the parties intended to "benefit Prince Andrew".
Prince Andrew could file for a motion of reconsideration or he could take his appeal straight to the second circuit court of appeals.
In that instance, a panel of judges would hear the case. If that didn't go in Andrew's favour, he could ask the full second circuit to hear the case or he could immediately ask the US Supreme Court to hear it.
More likely than not he will try and reach and out-of-court settlement. However, Roberts Giuffre has said she is not after money and has always wanted an apology from the prince.
The ruling is a major embarrassment for the Queen and the royal family. They have so far made no statement on today's ruling.
Roberts Giuffre's lawyer David Boies made eight "discovery requests" of the Duke including proof for his BBC Newsnight claim that he cannot sweat.
Roberts Giuffre, 38, said in a 2019 interview that the Prince was "sweating all over me" at a club on a night she alleges they had sex.
He said that Ghislaine Maxwell's conviction for her role in sex trafficking young girls did not bode well for Andrew.
Boies accused the royal of making tone deaf comments concerning his client that "reek of desperation".
"Maxwell tried that with very experienced, high-priced, very aggressive lawyers and it failed totally," he said,. "It's an ominous sign for Prince Andrew. His playbook has been the same as Maxwell's – blame, shame, deny, deny, deny.
"I think if he were prepared to take responsibility, it would go a long way towards resolving the claims," he said. "He is where he is because of his totally tone-deaf … mindless attacks on the character and credibility of brave, courageous, committed young women."
Boies said several witnesses were willing to say the Duke and Jeffrey Epstein abuse survivor Roberts Giuffre had met. He said: "We have four or five or six witnesses who will place them together."
US lawyer Lisa Bloom - who represents several victims of Epstein - said a woman from London has claimed to her that she saw Andrew dancing with Roberts Giuffre at Tramp nightclub
"She says that in 2001 she was at the Tramp nightclub and recalls seeing Prince Andrew," Bloom said. "It was pointed out to her by a member of her group.
"The woman remembers it vividly. She had never seen a royal before or since. It was a very big moment for her — she stared at him," Bloom said. "She says he was with Virginia — who looked very young and not happy — but Andrew was smiling and seemed to be very much enjoying himself on the dance floor."
The duke has denied he was with Virginia at the club - insisting to Newsnight he was at Pizza Express instead.