The Mail on Sunday today reveals crucial evidence that the infamous picture of Prince Andrew with his alleged teenage sex victim is genuine – demolishing claims by the Duke and his supporters that it could be fake.
The photograph of Andrew with his arm around 17-year-old Virginia Roberts has dogged him since it was first published by The Mail on Sunday 12 years ago and ultimately led to his downfall.
Since then, the 62-year-old Prince has suggested the devastating photograph could have been altered with digital trickery, while his former friend, jailed sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, claimed just last week that it is a fraud.
But this newspaper can prove the picture was an ordinary printed photograph developed at a one-hour photo lab that would have been virtually impossible to doctor.
The original print of the now infamous picture taken in London on March 10, 2001
A bombshell picture of the back of the original photograph showing a date stamp that proves it was developed on March 13, 2001 – three days after it is alleged Miss Roberts was forced to have sex with Andrew
The MoS can today exclusively reveal:
- A bombshell picture of the back of the original photograph showing a date stamp that proves it was developed on March 13, 2001 – three days after it is alleged Miss Roberts was forced to have sex with Andrew;
- That the original, taken on a Kodak disposable camera, was developed at a branch of Walgreens, a major US pharmacy chain;
- That the store where it is understood the photograph was processed is just a two-minute drive from Miss Roberts’ former home in West Palm Beach, Florida;
- Newly unearthed camera data which proves Miss Roberts showed the original picture to professional photographer Michael Thomas, who took 39 copies of the image, both front and back, before the MoS was involved in taking it to the FBI;
- Mr Thomas branded claims by Andrew and Maxwell that the original photograph could be fake as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘absurd’, saying he wants people to ‘stop dealing in conspiracies’.
Our sensational evidence undermines the Duke’s dramatic bid, revealed exclusively in last week’s MoS, to overturn the multi-million pound settlement he struck with Miss Roberts and restore his battered reputation.
This newspaper first published the photograph showing Andrew, then 41, grinning with his arm around Miss Roberts at Ghislaine Maxwell’s mews house in Belgravia, London, on February 27 2011.
The picture, which shows Maxwell in the background, had been taken nearly a decade earlier by paedophile Jeffrey Epstein using Miss Roberts’ camera.
In devastating legal testimony, Miss Roberts, now 39 and using her married name Giuffre, claimed the picture was taken the night she had sex with Andrew at Epstein and Maxwell’s bidding, after the pair had danced at Tramp nightclub in London.
Andrew has repeatedly and strenuously denied the allegations and during an interview with BBC Newsnight in 2019 attempted to cast doubt on the photo’s authenticity. ‘Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored but I don’t recollect that photograph ever being taken,’ he said.
Last week, in a televised prison interview Maxwell -– who is serving a 20-year sentence for sex trafficking – declared: ‘It is a fake. I don’t believe it’s real for a second, in fact I am sure it’s not. There has never been an original and further there is no photograph.’
Miss Roberts first showed the picture, which had been taken on a yellow Kodak camera, to MoS reporter Sharon Churcher and photographer Michael Thomas at her modest bungalow on Australia’s Central Coast in February 2011.
Ms Churcher was investigating a mysterious civil writ filed in a Florida court in 2009 by a woman identified only as ‘Jane Doe 102’ who claimed she had been sexually exploited by friends of financier Epstein ‘including royalty’.
After meticulously piecing together a string of clues, Ms Churcher discovered that the writ had been filed by a woman named Virginia Roberts and that she had moved to Australia. The picture featuring Prince Andrew had been kept with more than a dozen others from Miss Roberts’ time with Epstein in a white envelope that was stuffed in a bookcase.
The Walgreens where the photograph was developed, just two minutes from Virginia Giuffre’s then Florida home
The type of ‘fun’ camera Virginia says she used
Realising its enormous significance, the journalists met Miss Roberts the following day at a Crowne Plaza hotel in the nearby town of Terrigal where she allowed Mr Thomas to take photographs of the original print – standard practice for newspaper photographers handling sensitive pictures.
‘She handed me the photograph and I put it on the table in the hotel room and I copied it,’ Mr Thomas, a photographer of 37 years’ experience, told the MoS last night.
‘I think I took more than 30 frames, which is overkill for copying one photo but I didn’t want to get it out of focus or get it wrong because I knew how important it was.’
He was in no doubt the photo was genuine. ‘I was holding the original photo in my hand. It was a normal 6×4 inch print that you would have got from any developer at the time.
‘It looked like it was ten years old. It wasn’t crisp because it had been developed in 2001. She had held on to it for ten years by the time I saw it. For Ghislaine Maxwell to come out and say it was fake is ridiculous. I held the photo. It was a normal photograph. It was a physical print. It exists. I saw it and that’s what I photographed and that’s what you see now.’
Since then, the set of duplicates have sat on a hard drive in the office of Mr Thomas’s home near Queenstown in New Zealand. But last Monday, while driving home from a DIY store, he was infuriated to hear a report on the radio in which Maxwell insisted the photograph was fake. ‘I thought, “here we go again”. When they say it’s fake, they are saying that I’m involved. They are basically accusing someone of faking it and me being party to it. It’s not fake – and it never has been.’
Determined to kill the conspiracy theory once and for all, Mr Thomas examined his pictures from more than a decade ago and, to his surprise, realised that as well as taking 36 separate shots of the front of Ms Roberts’ photograph he had also turned the picture over and taken three shots of its reverse. Those images – published exclusively for the first time today – reveal a stamp that contains crucial new information. The stamp reads: ‘000 #15 13Mar01 Walgreens One Hour Photo’.
Experts say this proves the original photo was developed at Walgreens – a huge pharmacy chain similar to Boots – in one hour on March 13, 2001.
Last week, the MoS visited the Walgreens store in West Palm Beach which is most likely to have developed the photograph.
Photographer Michael Thomas holds a reprint of his photographed copy
The large shop on Royal Palm Beach Boulevard opened in 1988 and is less than a two-minute drive from Miss Roberts’ home at that time in Bent Oak, a development of flats where she lived with her then boyfriend Tony Figueroa.
Joel VanHemel, a Florida-based photographic expert and court witness, who was shown the back of the print last week, was unequivocal in saying it was genuine.
‘It was definitely produced in a Walgreens, for sure, probably using a Noritsu or Fuji machine.
‘The 000 number would be the order number, presumably because it was their first order that particular day. And the #15 is the negative number – it was the 15th picture in the film roll.’
Mr VanHemel, who has been working in photographic development since 1986, added: ‘Then you have the date – 13Mar01 – and it states it was Walgreens One Hour Photo. It’s on Kodak paper like the standard print you’d get from any Walgreens.’
A veteran photo developer who works in a different printing shop in West Palm Beach said he thought Miss Roberts’ original print was on Kodak RA-4 paper, which was used by Walgreens around that time.
DENIAL: The Duke said he had ‘absolutely no memory’ of the photograph being taken
Crucially, the date displayed on the picture perfectly fits with the known timeline of Miss Roberts’ movements. Flight logs obtained by the Daily Mail in 2019 show that Miss Roberts arrived in London on March 9, 2001, and departed for the US two days later. The photograph of Andrew and Miss Roberts is believed to have been taken on March 10.
Quizzed under oath, Miss Roberts has said that while she cannot remember exactly where she got the photograph developed, she believed it was ‘when I got back to America’.
A top forensic imaging expert consulted by this newspaper last week said he believed our evidence showed the picture was unlikely to have been faked. ‘The original image is likely to be genuine,’ he said. ‘Film grain is visible so the original print will most likely be taken on a film camera and printed onto photographic paper rather than be a digital image.’
And renowned US digital forensic expert Bryan Neumeister, who gave evidence during last year’s Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial, said he could find no evidence of forgery from his preliminary assessment of one of Mr Thomas’s duplicates.
‘With more than 42 years of film, video and digital photography professional experience, and having worked more than 1,000 legal cases, It is my initial opinion that the photo in question is not a composite,’ he said.
A photograph of Virginia Roberts, taken by Michael Thomas during their meeting
For Mr Thomas, the discovery of the image of the back of the photo is documentary proof that he saw – and held – the original print.
‘People are now saying it was just a copy and there was no original photo. Well, I saw the photo. And it was a photo with the information of when and where it was processed on the back.’
Mr Thomas is not the only person who saw the original print. Miss Roberts showed the photo soon after it was developed to her friend Carolyn Andriano, who was also abused by Epstein and Maxwell when she was 14.
Last week, her husband John told the MoS that Andrew and Maxwell were ‘wrong’ to claim the photo had been doctored, adding: ‘My wife only tells the truth, she ain’t no liar. If she said that’s what she saw then that’s all there is to it.’
Tony Figueroa, Miss Roberts’ ex-boyfriend, has also said that he also saw the photo in 2001 when she first told him about Andrew. Quizzed under oath in 2016 about whether he saw a photograph with Miss Roberts with the Duke, he replied: ‘Yes’.
ACCUSER: Virginia Roberts holds a photo of herself at age 16, when she says Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein began abusing her sexually
An analysis of the ‘meta-data’ embedded in each of Mr Thomas’s 39 images of the original photograph, also provides proof of his account. They show that he took the images with a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV camera on February 17, 2011. He took the final picture of the front of the original image at 1.04pm, before turning it over and photographing its reverse.
Mr Thomas said the idea that the photo could have been doctored before he saw it is also fanciful.
‘Virginia lived in a basic bungalow in pretty rural New South Wales. She wasn’t massively computer literate – I don’t think she even had a computer at the house. We didn’t get anything computerised from Virginia. You’ve got to remember that this was 2011. If at any stage someone had faked it, they would have had to fake the front and the back of the photo.’
‘They throw out this line that it’s been faked but have three different people been put in the photo? How was it done? What’s fake about the picture?
‘If you look at the original print there’s a thumbprint in shot and there’s a flash bouncing back off the back window. It’s not exactly the most technically perfect picture.
‘I’d like this all to be put to bed. I don’t want every six months to get emails from people saying it’s fake. Hopefully people can stop dealing in conspiracies.’