Top lawyer calls Prince Andrew BBC interview 'a catastrophic error'

Molly Blackall and Jim Waterson
Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Prince Andrew’s decision to take part in a BBC interview on his relationship with the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein has been described as a “catastrophic error” by a top media lawyer.

The Queen’s son has broken his silence on his friendship with the disgraced financier and allegations of a non-consensual sexual encounter with a 17-year-old, in a pre-recorded interview for Saturday evening’s Newsnight programme.

Related: Prince Andrew: I thought staying with Epstein was 'honourable thing'

However, media commentators have said the decision to take part in the interview could backfire.

Mark Stephens, who represented James Hewitt after his alleged affair with Princess Diana, said: “This strategy only works if you’ve got a complete and full answer to every possible question, and here there are too many loose ends.

“If he’d kept his silence he’d have been able to remain outside of the case, as he’s a witness and is entitled to diplomatic immunity. He was a private individual and now he’s waived that privacy.”

Mark Borkowski, a PR agent with a number of high-profile celebrity clients, described the interview as “extraordinary”.

“Andrew has never enjoyed the company of journalists, and always kept the press firmly at arm’s length. Doing something so public is a high-risk strategy, and likely just to draw more attention to the issue without changing any minds,” he said.

“Generally when television cameras have been pointed at the royals, it’s ended very differently to how they’ve intended.”

Andrew hired Jason Stein, a former adviser to Amber Rudd, as his new press officer in September. However, he left after a matter of weeks to join a different PR firm, for unknown reasons.

Newsnight sources said the interview was a result of six months of negotiations with the royal household, with an agreement that there would not be any advance vetting of the questions.

The interviewer, Emily Maitlis, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday that the programme went into “forensic detail” about the allegations in the press.

“I was expecting to be told it’s beneath the BBC to be questioning a senior royal about his sexual history. And to be fair to the Duke of York, we had no comeback, there was no question he didn’t address, there was nothing that was off limit,” she said.

In the interview, the prince denies having any recollection of meeting Virginia Giuffre, who claims that she was coerced into having sex with him when she was 17.

Since snippets of the interview have been released, Giuffre has retweeted several disparaging reactions to the interview, including one that said: “To have to watch this weasel attempt to wiggle free from the claws of justice, is absolutely abhorrent.”

She also retweeted Peter Barron, a former editor of the Northern Echo, who commented: “Astonishing decision by the royal family to go ahead with this Prince Andrew confessional interview in the hope it would draw a line under the scandal. It will have the opposite effect.”