Andrew marks Bruges anniversary in first major royal duty since Epstein death
Prince Andrew has attended a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bruges, his first major international event since the scandal over his friendship with paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein re-emerged.
The Duke of York was present in his role as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and laid a wreath at the Charles II memorial in the Belgian city on Saturday morning.
He was a guest of Prince Laurent of Belgium, the brother of King Phillipe, and the pair later inspected a guard of honour in the market square.
Andrew stared directly at the bank of photographers and camera crews waiting for him at the memorial, and fumbled with the wreath which had to be placed on a stand.
He had initially tried to hook the wreath on to the stand and had to be assisted by an official.
The duke did not speak following the inspection of the guard of honour in the square, where a brass band played the Belgian and British national anthems as well as its own anthem.
The bells of Bruges’ famous clock tower chimed to mark the end of the event.
Andrew is due to take part in a private ceremony this afternoon at the Guild of Saint Sebastian to raise the British and Belgian flags.
It is the duke’s most significant public engagement since his friend Epstein was found hanged in his cell on August 10 in New York while facing fresh charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy.
The disgraced financier admitted prostituting minors in 2008 and spent 18 months in prison.
Andrew, who has categorically denied any wrongdoing, has faced criticism in recent weeks about his links with Epstein.
He was photographed with the billionaire in New York’s Central Park in December 2010 following Epstien’s release from prison.
Buckingham Palace has also been forced to issue strong denials over allegations made by Virginia Roberts in court papers in Florida that she was forced to have sex with Andrew when she was 17, which is under the age of consent in the state.
The palace called the allegations “false and without any foundation”, saying “any suggestion of impropriety with under-age minors” by the duke was “categorically untrue”.
Andrew said in a statement on August 24: “At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to (Epstein’s) arrest and conviction.”
The prince’s host in Bruges, Prince Laurent, is himself no stranger to controversy, earning himself the nickname of “the cursed prince” in the Belgian press.
He has frequently attracted criticism for conducting what has been deemed diplomatic activity without the consent of the country’s parliament.
Last year his annual stipend was docked for attending an event at the Chinese embassy to mark the 90th anniversary of the Chinese military in full military uniform without authorisation.
Today, the prince wore a sash of his country’s colours as he joined Andrew for the inspection of the guards.
The duke took over the role of Colonel of the Grenadier Guards from his father the Duke of Edinburgh in December 2017.
The Grenadiers have been associated with the city of Bruges since King Charles II formed a royal regiment there in 1656 while he was in exile before the restoration of the British monarchy.
Andrew was previously pictured at the Dartmouth Royal Regatta in Devon at the end of August, an event of which he is patron.
Photos posted on the Royal Family Twitter account showed the Queen’s second-youngest son on the water, and meeting people at the regatta’s 175th anniversary celebrations.