LONDON — Buckingham Palace has never explained the photograph. It shows a middle-aged Prince Andrew, Duke of York, smiling with his arm around the bare waist of Virginia Roberts, then 17, who claims she was later paid by Jeffrey Epstein for sexual encounters with the prince.

In the background stands Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who accusers say was Epstein’s girlfriend and madam. The photo was reportedly taken at Maxwell’s London home in 2001.

The image caused scandalous headlines for the royal family when it first surfaced in 2011. Epstein was by then a registered sex offender who had served prison time for two felony prostitution charges.

The photo became news again in 2015, when Andrew was named in U.S. court documents that outlined serious allegations of sexual misconduct.

The politically connected financier and registered sex offender apparently killed himself in jail, the Bureau of Prisons said on Aug 10. (The Washington Post)

Andrew, the brother of Prince Charles and eighth in line to the British throne, has denied having any sexual relations with Roberts. A federal judge struck the allegations from court records, saying they were “immaterial and impertinent.”

But after the arrest of Epstein on July 6 on federal charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York, this old scandal is back for Prince Andrew.

With Epstein now dead after a suspected suicide Saturday and Maxwell apparently outside the reach of investigators, hiding from the limelight she once embraced, the Duke of York may be the highest-profile member of Epstein’s circle from the time of the allegations against him.

Jeffrey Epstein was charged July 8 with sex trafficking crimes and pleaded not guilty. The Post's Kimberly Kindy breaks down the charges. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

On Friday, newly unsealed legal documents from a defamation suit Roberts brought against Maxwell resurfaced old accusations and elaborated on the account of inappropriate behavior.

In the documents, Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, says she was “trafficked” to Andrew, with whom she claims to have had three sexual encounters. Her attorneys say flight logs show Giuffre, Maxwell and Epstein flying to London on Epstein’s private plane. 

They also claim that the photograph of Andrew, Giuffre and Maxwell, included in the documents, corroborates their claims. 

“There is no other reasonable explanation why an American child should be in the company of adults not her kin, in the London house owned by the girlfriend of a now convicted sex offender,” the attorneys said.

The documents contain deposition testimony from a woman named Johanna Sjoberg, who echoes allegations first made public in 2007 that Andrew groped her at Epstein’s New York townhouse when she was 21.

“I just remember someone suggesting a photo, and they told us to go get on the couch. And so Andrew and Virginia sat on the couch, and they put the puppet, the puppet on her lap,” said Sjoberg, in testimony included in the documents.

“And so then I sat on Andrew’s lap, and I believe on my own volition, and they took the puppet’s hands and put it on Virginia’s breast, and so Andrew put his on mine.”

Buckingham Palace, which rarely comments on scandalous accusations, has repeated denials it issued in 2015. A spokesman told The Washington Post on Friday: “This relates to proceedings in the United States, to which the Duke of York is not a party. Any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”

Several British newspapers showed Andrew, now 59, traveling with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, to church Sunday. “Royal rally-round” read a caption in the Sun, a right-leaning tabloid.

For a family that has seen public attention shift to a younger, more popular generation, the news prompted an unwelcome refocusing.

Andrew was long ago dubbed “Randy Andy” in the tabloids on account of his playboy lifestyle. His public image was marred by rumors of a rocky romantic life and murky business arrangements — or in the case of his friendship with Epstein, sometimes both intertwined.

Andrew and Epstein reportedly met in the late 1990s, introduced by Maxwell, daughter of disgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell.

In June 2000, the Daily Mail reported that Epstein and Maxwell were among the guests at a Windsor Castle event dubbed “Dance of the Decades,” which celebrated multiple royal birthdays. Prince William turned 18 that day.

Later that year, the Mail on Sunday reported that Andrew threw a birthday party for Maxwell at Sandringham, the queen’s country estate, to which Epstein was invited. Maxwell and Epstein were also snapped on a pheasant shoot at the estate.

In 2001, the prince reportedly vacationed with Epstein in Thailand, where Andrew was photographed on a yacht with several topless women.

It was in 2011, though, that the relationship rose to the level of scandal. That’s when the Daily Mail first published Roberts’s photograph with Andrew, as well as a picture of Epstein and Andrew strolling in Central Park the previous year.

Andrew’s ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson — widely known here as Fergie — was also tangled up with Epstein, having accepted $18,000 from him to help pay off her debts. She later said it was a “gigantic error of judgment.”

She told the Evening Standard in 2011: “Once again my errors have compounded and rebounded and also inadvertently impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the duke.”

A few months later, Andrew gave up his role as Britain’s business ambassador, promoting British interests abroad. He also reportedly cut off relations with Epstein.

In a post-MeToo era, it may prove difficult for a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct to bat away the accusations — even if he is a royal. Several British lawmakers are now calling for a new investigation of Andrew’s ties to Epstein. 

“We are talking about the trafficking of children,” Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, told the Daily Mirror. “This is very serious, and authorities should learn from the past in ignoring such allegations.”

Christopher Wilson, a British journalist and royal biographer who has spent decades following the family, said a rally of support was typical.

“The Palace, as they always do in a crisis, shut right down and say as little as possible in case it can be used against them later,” Wilson wrote in an email. “I’d stick my neck out and say that, even if he is completely implicated, wheels-within-wheels will stop him from being arrested and tried.”

“The Royal family has far more influence than you see,” Wilson added.