Prince Andrew sex allegations: How the prince became the centre of a perfect media storm

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government.

One of the most widely asked questions by news editors and editors is: "How do we know this?"

The answer is even more pertinent when the story involves extramarital affairs or illicit sex. By their very nature the activities are secret and without a fly on the bedroom wall very difficult to prove, even more so when the alleged participants are the wealthy and powerful and include Prince Andrew, the Queen's son and fifth in line to the throne.

Imagine the joy, brought to even the grumpiest of news editors, when the answer to his question is: "Court documents and what's more there are pictures." Added to that there is even publication in the public interest, because the claims are involving under-age sex.

Now the prince is at the centre of a perfect media storm. Just at a time when sexual grooming, rape and cover-ups are up front and centre in the public eye, lawyers for a woman in the state of Florida lodge court papers claiming that a mega-wealthy convicted paedophile (and the conviction gives the tale more veracity) procured an under-age courtesan for Prince Andrew.

Normally, this would be in the realms of the National Enquirer, the lurid US-based supermarket tabloid, and would stay firmly in America where the libel laws are virtually non-existent; but the naming of the prince in court papers, his history with the main man accused and at least one picture of Andrew with the girl has propelled the story across the Atlantic and on to the front pages of even the most staid publications.

And now it is open season, helped by a garrulous American lawyer named with Andrew as being involved in the sex scandal, who is pouring more petrol on the flames by his denials. Reporters are going back to the original case where Jeffrey Epstein agreed a plea bargain that led to him virtually getting off multiple child sex charges. Prince Andrew was not named in that original case but Virginia Roberts, the woman making the claims, alleges that he was involved.

And just to add a bit more spice, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of Robert Maxwell, has been accused of being the madam or chief procurer of girls for Epstein and by implication Andrew.

Wrap all this up in Andrew being one of the most unpopular members of the royal family – nicknamed "air miles Andrew" for his use of helicopters and planes paid for by the tax payer – and the perception is that he is an idle ne'er do well. Adding to this perception is that he was staying at a £22,000 a week ski chalet in the glamorous Swiss resort of Verbier when the story broke.

The normal practice of the royal family when there is scandal in the air is to say nothing and not dignify or inflame the story with a response. But on this occasion, as the BBC's consummate royal reporter Peter Hunt rather breathlessly pointed out, Buckingham Palace has made three unprecedented detailed denials of all the claims. Well, Andrew would have been damned if they did and damned if they didn't.

I have no idea where Prince Andrew stands legally on this issue but in newspaper terms he and the royal family are "up s*** creek without a paddle". And that was before Sarah, Duchess of York, gave him her backing as "the greatest man there is".

Chris Boffey is a former news editor of the Observer, Sunday Telegraph and the Mirror and onetime special adviser to the Labour government