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The prince, the US president, the Oscar winner and Ghislaine took private palace tour

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Prince Andrew. Photo: Chris Radburn/Reuters

Prince Andrew. Photo: Chris Radburn/Reuters

Prince Andrew. Photo: Chris Radburn/Reuters

When Bill Clinton flew into London in September 2002, doors flew open for him. He had stepped down as US president after two terms only the year before, and was on his way to address the Labour Party conference.

Among the opened doors were those to Buckingham Palace, when Prince Andrew invited him to tour the palace. At the time, no one could imagine the visit would come back to haunt all those taking part. But it has, following discovery of a photograph of Ghislaine Maxwell sitting on the ornate throne used by Queen Elizabeth for her coronation in 1953.

Next to her is Bill Clinton's friend Kevin Spacey - then Hollywood royalty and shortly to become artistic director of the Old Vic - in the place normally occupied by the Duke of Edinburgh.

Maxwell is now ensconced in the far more spartan surroundings of a police cell in New Hampshire after her arrest last Thursday, following a year-long investigation by the FBI. She is charged with helping to recruit and groom underage girls for her ex-boyfriend Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier, a friend of Prince Andrew's, and faces questions over the extent of Andrew's knowledge of events.

Spacey's career and reputation were left in tatters after he was accused in 2017 of making unwanted sexual advances to a 14-year-old actor and a string of other young men. Charges against him were later dropped.

And Prince Andrew is now back at the centre of the scandal surrounding Epstein's sordid activities, with US prosecutors saying they would "welcome" his testimony as part of the ongoing FBI investigation. Yesterday it emerged that Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, is facing a diplomatic quandary after US prosecutors submitted a formal request for Andrew to speak to them

At the time, the photo, had it been released, would have been seen as a light-hearted if somewhat disrespectful memento of a celebrity visit. But with the passing of time, the picture is now raising eyebrows around the world, and has come to assume a much more disturbing significance, showing as it does just how close Maxwell was at the time to her friend Prince Andrew.

It was him after all who had invited her and Spacey, along with Bill Clinton, to the private tour of Buckingham Palace. Clinton was in London en route to the Labour Party conference in Blackpool, where he was guest of honour.

On the evening of his speech, Clinton expressed a desire for a burger and was accompanied by Tony Blair's then director of communications Alastair Campbell to a McDonald's on Blackpool's Golden Mile - to the astonishment of the locals.

Among the burger party in Blackpool was Spacey, who had come up from London with Clinton. Before arriving in the UK, Clinton had spent seven days on a tour of Africa, along with Maxwell, Spacey and fellow US actor Chris Tucker, on Epstein's private jet, a Boeing 727 reportedly nicknamed the Lolita Express.

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Photographs show Clinton posing for the cameras with his arm around Maxwell on the steps to the plane.

It is not clear if Epstein was present on that humanitarian trip to Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Mozambique, and South Africa organised for the Clinton Foundation. Flight logs appear to show the former president was a frequent user of Epstein's jet, taking at least 26 trips on the plane. In the early years of his post-presidency, Bill Clinton took four trips on the plane with stops in Europe, Africa and Asia, in at least one case with Epstein present. Indeed the same year as the Africa trip Clinton praised Epstein for his charitable work in a magazine profile.

Last year, Mr Clinton - against whom there are no accusations - firmly distanced himself from Epstein, with his spokesman saying on Twitter that the former president knew nothing of Epstein's "terrible crimes".

At the end of the Africa tour, the party arrived in London, where Andrew invited Clinton, Spacey and Maxwell to visit Buckingham Palace.

The Throne Room is normally only accessible through public tours or during state visits and official royal functions. For anyone other than the Queen or Prince Philip to sit on the chairs is unthinkable and would invite disciplinary action if it were a member of staff.

Rumours had circulated previously about the visit to the palace, though officials dismissed them, saying Prince Andrew had "no recollection" of it taking place. It is not thought Epstein was present, although he had previously visited Sandringham and Windsor Castle along with Maxwell, as Andrew's guest.

In June 2000, Epstein and Maxwell were among a star-studded guest list at a party hosted by the Queen at Windsor. Andrew later told the BBC that Epstein was there at his invitation, and was to some extent Ms Maxwell's "plus one".

A year before the palace photo was taken, the Duke appeared with Maxwell in another picture. This one showed him with his arm around a 17-year-old teenager called Virginia Roberts - now Virginia Roberts Giuffre - at Maxwell's Belgravia House, a stone's throw from Buckingham Palace. Ms Giuffre claims she and the Duke danced at Tramp nightclub in London before having sex that night. The Duke has consistently denied her claims.

Ten months on, Maxwell was posing for the camera again - this time at the very heart of the British establishment. How different that Buckingham Palace photo looks now.

©Telegraph

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