Prince Andrew brazenly holds shooting party days before sexual assault court hearing

PRINCE Andrew brazenly held a shooting party yesterday — just two days before a court hearing over sex assault claims against him.

The Duke of York hosted guests at the Queen’s private 550-acre Balmoral estate despite the legal challenge facing him in a New York court tomorrow.

And those invited to the ­Scottish retreat are thought to have included the Crown Prince of Bahrain, 51, who is linked to human rights abuses in his home country.

The gathering came as The Sun revealed Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s lawyers claim they have secured the testimony of two key witnesses who say they saw Andrew, 61, with her on two separate occasions.

The Prince stated in a disastrous Newsnight interview in 2019 that he had “no recollection” of meeting Ms Giuffre.

Royal aides are said to be furious he fled his Windsor home last week and arrived at his mum’s summer home, making it look like she is ­harbouring him.

One royal source last night said: “This is so brazen it is unbelievable. Prince Andrew is carrying on like nothing has happened and as if he hasn’t got a care in the world.

“It has been bad enough that he appears to have been seeking refuge at Balmoral, where the Queen is trying to have quiet time after a tough year, but to host a shooting party, with some dubious guests shows disrespect to the monarchy. And it is also tone deaf as if he does not care about what is going on with the legal case.”

'Running to mummy'

A separate source said Andrew angered senior courtiers by travelling 500 miles to the Highlands on Tuesday with ex-wife Sarah Ferguson.

They said: “It looks like he is running to mummy and that she is almost harbouring him. No one wants Andrew near Balmoral. It looks like he is hiding behind a woman who is approaching 100 years old.

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“He needs to pull his socks up and face his responsibilities. Going for flight instead of fight is making him look irresponsible and guilty, even if he isn’t.”

Lawyers acting for Ms Giuffre insist they have served papers on Andrew for the sex assault lawsuit by leaving them with police at the gate of Windsor Royal Lodge on August 27.

But sources said the Prince’s team believe they had laid a trap for her lawyers and would argue the summons had not been properly served as it should be delivered via a ­British court official.

Yet lawyers for Ms Giuffre — now 38 but just 17 at the time of the alleged rape in the first degree — are certain they have followed the correct protocol.

US District Judge Lewis Kaplan, overseeing the case, will rule on whether he has been served. Ms Giuffre’s people have talked with Johanna Sjoberg and Steve Scully, said to be key witnesses, in recent weeks, The Sun on Sunday can reveal.

Her lawyer David Boies said: “We’ve spoken to a woman who saw them at the Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion and a man who ­witnessed them on the island.”

No one wants Andrew near Balmoral. It looks like he is hiding behind a woman who is approaching 100 years old.

Ms Sjoberg was reportedly at convicted paedo Epstein’s Manhattan home with Andrew in 2001, shortly before Ms Giuffre claims she was assaulted.

Epstein’s former lover Ghislaine Maxwell, 59, charged with procuring girls, was said to be there when Ms Sjoberg claimed the Prince groped her breast with a Spitting Image puppet of himself, with her on his knee.

Hairstylist Ms Sjoberg, 41, has said: “We had a picture taken. It was a great joke.”

Mr Scully believes he spotted Andrew “groping and kissing” Ms Giuffre on Epstein’s Caribbean island of Little St James. Mr Boies, 80, warned the Prince’s case could gather pace if he fails to engage with the lawsuit filed on August 9.

If he does not, Mr Boies will push for a default judgment. He claimed discussions over an amount of damages to be paid by Andrew to Ms Giuffre, could run into millions “by the end of the year”.

Tomorrow’s first hearing in New York has the potential for Andrew to be branded a rapist in court for the first time.

It was a shooting weekend, a straightforward shooting weekend.

A pre-trial teleconference for the civil case, led by Judge Kaplan, will be held at 9pm UK time. Andrew was also pictured in 2000 with Epstein and Maxwell on a pheasant shoot on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.

When asked by Newnight’s Emily Maitlis in 2019 about whether he had invited Epstein to a party, Andrew quickly corrected her: “It was a shooting weekend, a straightforward shooting weekend.”

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the latest developments as did Andrew, who has denied any wrongdoing.

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