I don’t care about Prince Andrew but I do care about justice - Jayne Dowle

In normal times, asking a question about the second son of the monarch in the middle of a televised General Election debate between the two main party leaders would be a very odd thing to do.

The Duke of York. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
The Duke of York. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Many viewers will have been left wondering how entirely appropriate it was for ITV1 news presenter, Julie Etchingham, the moderator, to lob one in from the live audience in the middle of exchanges on Brexit and the NHS between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

Then again, we don’t live in normal times. We’re having a General Election in the middle of December. And Prince Andrew has by all accounts not behaved in the way we would expect of a member of the British Royal Family. Or any family, to be honest.

Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson were asked a question about Prince Andrew during the General Election debate. Photo: ITV

His friendship with American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in prison while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking charges, is demanding some explanations.

Softening up the opponents with an opener about whether the monarchy is fit for purpose – to which Mr Corbyn muttered it “needs a bit of improvement” and Mr Johnson staunchly attested it is “beyond reproach” – Ms Etchingham pressed on.

“Is the Duke of York fit for purpose?” Mr Corbyn went straight for the empathy: “I think there are very, very serious questions that must be answered and nobody should be above the law. But the primary position ought to be the proper treatment of those people that have been victims of the most appalling behaviour by apparently Epstein and many others.”

Mr Johnson then answered – choosing his words carefully. “All our sympathies should be obviously with the victims of Jeffrey Epstein. And the law must certainly take its course.” There are growing calls for the Prince to speak to both Commissioner Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police and the FBI about what he knows.

However, earlier this week, when I told my two teenagers that I was writing about Prince Andrew, they looked confused. Despite the car crash Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis, in which he did himself no favours whatsoever, neither of them knew who I was talking about. Meghan and Kate they definitely recognise, and all of their children. William and Harry they sympathise with, especially on matters of sibling rivalry.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are extremely grand versions of their own grandparents. And the Prince of Wales? They like him because of his concern for the environment. They just don’t notice the others, to be honest.

I suspect they are not alone. Until recent events, Prince Andrew, who turns 60 next year, looked destined to fade into the background like so many relatively minor Royals before him, wheeled out for weddings, funerals and state occasions only.

Now his fitness for purpose is being debated by political leaders. And taxpayers are left wondering what kind of lifestyle we are contributing to through the Sovereign Grant he receives as a ‘‘working Royal’’.

Former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, who has written a book on the Royal Family and their wealth, estimates Andrew’s total fortune at £57m.

On this scale, he’s third in line to the throne, behind only the Queen, whose personal wealth is believed to be £1.6bn and the Prince of Wales, at £100m.

And now, as if the affiliations with Epstein weren’t damaging enough, questions are being asked how he has made these millions. To put it bluntly, it’s all very murky for the man who lists Chancellor of Huddersfield University among his honours.

Students are already calling for him to quit and sponsors, included the Standard Chartered Bank, are reported to be pulling the plug on their links with his [email protected] young entrepreneurs scheme.

Like my teenagers, I don’t very much care what happens to Prince Andrew. However, I do care that if he has been guilty of any kind or moral or criminal wrongdoing, he should be held to account as if he was a regular citizen. And if he has treated young women with anything other than respect, he deserves the book throwing at him.

His presence in the news has been damaging to his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and to the Queen and the monarchy in general.

And last night’s news that the Queen has given him permission to “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future” is a clear indication of the damage this was having.

It’s right that he has considered his position and stepped back. However, the reality is he should have done so far sooner.