Prince Andrew’s spin doctor has stepped down after palace officials expressed their fury at a botched attempt to discredit the royal’s sex abuse accuser, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Mark Gallagher, nicknamed ‘the backroom fixer’, was hired almost a year ago in a bid to repair the Prince’s scandalised reputation.
The Duke of York, 61, is facing accusations from alleged victim Virginia Roberts that she was forced to have sex with him on three occasions when she was aged 17 in 2001.
But in a bungling attempt to clear the Prince’s name Mr Gallagher, and the Duchess of York‘s personal assistant Antonia Marshall, approached online troll Molly Skye Brown.
The Mail on Sunday last month revealed how the pair sought Ms Brown’s help to prove a famous picture of the Prince with Ms Roberts, first published by the same paper, was doctored.
They also discussed the possibility of setting up a fake Twitter profile to ensnare other Epstein victims.
But in a dramatic twist, the 42-year-old mum-of-one from Orlando, Florida, turned on the pair and even reported their approach to the FBI.
Now Mr Gallagher has resigned amid fury from palace officials over the approach.
However the spin doctor, who says he will continue to advise the 60-year-old royal in a private capacity, insists the decision is due to ‘deeply offensive and threatening’ abuse he has received in the wake of the Epstein scandal.
Mark Gallagher (pictured), nicknamed ‘the backroom fixer’, was hired almost a year ago in a bid to repair the Prince’s scandalised reputation
The Duke and Duchess of York’s advisers sought help from an online troll in a bid to discredit the Duke’s sex accuser. The aides hoped Molly Skye Brown, who attacked Virginia Roberts on Twitter for months, possessed information that might prove the infamous photo of Andrew with his arm around Ms Roberts, then 17, was manipulated. (Above, Ms Brown in 2001, the year she attended a Jeffrey Epstein party)
Virginia Roberts, one of the victims of billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, claims she was forced to have sex with the Duke, now 60, on three occasions, allegations he vehemently denies along with any other wrongdoing. In a bizarre conversation, one of the Duke’s team is alleged to have discussed with Ms Brown the possibility of setting up a fake Twitter account to ensnare a woman they suspected of doctoring the photo. Ms Roberts maintains the picture (above) was taken on the night she claims she had sex with Andrew in 2001
The MoS last month exposed the botched approach Ms Brown.
The former teenage beauty queen had waged a vitriolic online campaign against Ms Roberts, claiming she was in fact an ‘enabler’ of Epstein, a sex trafficker herself and that a picture of her with the Prince was doctored.
But the abuse meted out by Ms Brown towards Ms Roberts did not stop the approach from the Prince and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson’s closest advisers.
In a 45-minute phone call and a string of texts in December the advisers discussed the possibility of discrediting Ms Roberts’s allegations against the Prince.
Yet, instead of assisting the Prince’s team, Ms Brown turned on the pair and even reported their approach to the FBI.
After the MoS exposed the botched approach, palace officials are said to have expressed their fury over the affair and the further reputational damage it caused.
Mr Gallagher, who also faced a barrage of criticism from Ms Brown online, stepped down from his role advising the Prince.
A source said: ‘It was made very clear that the Palace does not believe that is an acceptable way to approach this matter, and that was conveyed in no uncertain terms to Mr Gallagher.
‘A representative of the royal family can’t be reaching out to people behaving in that manner.’
However, in an email to staff at his corporate PR agency, Pagefield, seen by the Telegraph, Mr Gallagher said the decision to step down was due to ‘deeply offensive and threatening trolling’ while working for the Prince.
In the email, reported in the Telegraph, he said: ‘I am afraid that this comes with the territory, but was something I was prepared to tolerate because of my commitment to someone who I believe will be fully vindicated in due course.
‘The fact that my work outside of Pagefield is impacting some of you working inside Pagefield is something I cannot accept.’
In response to the outcry over Ms Roberts’s allegations, the Queen’s son has been forced to give up royal duties and step down from all his charitable patronages.
Lawyers for the victims of Epstein have called on the Prince to submit himself for an FBI interview after the US agency made it clear they wished to speak with him.
But he has so far not been interviewed by the FBI despite claiming that he has reached out to the US Department of Justice and agreed to co-operate with their investigation.
The Duke’s long-time friend Ghislaine Maxwell, 59, is currently awaiting a trial in America on charges of grooming teenage girls as young as 14 for Epstein to abuse.
Maxwell also featured in a famous picture of the Prince with his arm around Ms Roberts who says she was trafficked by Epstein and forced to have sex with the royal.
Ghislaine Maxwell (above, with Jeffrey Epstein), 58, is on remand in the US after being charged with the sex trafficking of underage girls and the enticement of minors. She has denied any wrongdoing
In response to the outcry over Ms Roberts’s claims, the Queen’s second son was forced to give up Royal duties and step down from his charitable patronages. With the US authorities still hopeful of interviewing him about the Epstein scandal, his team of advisers is working behind the scenes to try to restore his reputation. (Above, Prince Andrew with Epstein in 2010)
The Prince’s then-advisers reportedly commissioned investigators to determine whether the 2001 image, understood to have been taken at Maxwell’s London apartment after a night of clubbing, had been doctored.
And sources then briefed newspapers that the Duke’s hands in the image, originally handed to this newspaper by Ms Roberts, ‘don’t look right’.
It was on this bizarre premise that the Prince’s team approached Ms Brown, who also claims she was targeted by Maxwell as a 14-year-old to become a ‘model’, but did not take her up on the offer.
Following an approach by Sarah Ferguson’s assistant Ms Marshall, the pair had a lengthy phone conversation in which they even discussed the possibility of setting up a fake Twitter profile to entrap Epstein victims.
In a series of follow-up texts with Mr Gallagher, Ms Brown asked the Duke’s PR: ‘What exactly we will be focusing on for our chat,’ adding: ‘As you know this is much bigger and darker than just a photo scandal. Agreed?’
Mr Gallagher tellingly replied: ‘Entirely agreed, Molly. I’d like to talk to you in the round about the important distinction you have drawn between survivors and – in effects – enablers. That gets to the heart of this.’
But Ms Brown broke off contact with the Prince’s adviser, describing him as ‘desperate’ before reporting the approach to the FBI.
A source close to the Prince said last month that the conversation was ‘not out of the ordinary and ‘nothing went further than an initial discussion.’
A spokesman for Mr Gallagher’s Riverside Advisory firm said: ‘Due to a business conflict, Mark reluctantly stepped down from the working group at the start of this year, but remains fiercely loyal to The Duke, as well as to the York family, and will continue to advise them in a private capacity.
‘Reputation Communications, led by Lucy Goodwin, who has been working alongside Mark as part of The Duke’s working group for the past year, have now stepped up to take on media and advisory to the Duke’s working group.’
Mr Gallagher, formerly ITV’s director of corporate affairs, first provided external PR advice to the Royal family during the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.