Loan from paedophile a huge error, says Fergie
Published 08/03/2011 | 05:00
SARAH Ferguson the Duchess of York admitted yesterday that she had made "a gigantic error of judgment" by allowing a convicted paedophile to help pay off her debts.
She said it had been a "terrible" mistake to accept Jeffrey Epstein's offer of a £15,000 (€17,500) payment to a former aide who was among a string of creditors.
But in a confused attempt to defend Prince Andrew the Duke of York against allegations that he had helped negotiate the payment, she appeared to drag him further into the controversy by saying: "The duke sorted out my debts."
The duchess personally approved the text of a newspaper interview, which claimed Epstein, a self-confessed child sex offender, had agreed the payment "through the duke's office".
She later issued an urgent clarification in which she said she had dealt directly with Epstein over the course of nine months and denied that the duke or his staff had negotiated the payment.
The duchess's clumsy efforts to distance the duke from the scandal came after a newspaper disclosed that Epstein had paid the money to Johnny O'Sullivan, the duchess's former personal assistant. A source involved in the negotiations over the duchess's £5m (€5.8m) debts also claimed the duke discussed his ex-wife's finances with Epstein in New York last December.
Epstein, a billionaire financier, had originally offered to pay off far more of the duchess's debts than the £15,000 he eventually handed over.
The duchess made her effusive apology in an interview with the 'London Evening Standard', in which she said her ex-husband "does not know how to tell an untruth or behave dishonourably".
She said: "I personally, on behalf of myself, deeply regret that Jeffrey Epstein became involved in any way with me.
"I abhor paedophilia and any sexual abuse of children and know that this was a gigantic error of judgment on my behalf.
"I am just so contrite I cannot say. Whenever I can I will repay the money and will have nothing ever to do with Jeffrey Epstein ever again."
The duchess, who issued a similar apology last May after being caught in a tabloid sting offering access to her husband for £500,000 (€579,784), added: "Once again my errors have compounded and rebounded and also impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the duke."
Referring to the settlement of her £5m debts, which have now been cleared following individual arrangements with her creditors, the duchess added: "The duke sorted out my debts and he and his office have been more than marvellous."
Epstein, a friend of the duke for 16 years, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in 2008 after admitting soliciting an underage girl for prostitution.
There is no suggestion the duke was aware of Epstein's activities.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)