Boris Johnson has defended the Duke of York as pressure mounts on the prince and the royal family over his involvement with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Asked whether he had confidence in the royal, the Prime Minister told ITV News: "Let me tell you something, I've worked with Prince Andrew, I've seen the good he has been able to do for UK business overseas and other than that I have no comment."

He added: "I have no comment, or indeed no knowledge of this other stuff."

Prince Andrew, a former UK trade representative, has come under increasing pressure to explain his relationship with the disgraced US financier.

Epstein, 66, took his own life in a jail cell this month while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

He was also previously convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution and spent 18 months in prison, however the royal continued to meet with him after his conviction.

HeraldScotland: Prince Andrew is to become president of Wellington Academy

In a lengthy statement released on Saturday, the prince defended his friendship with Epstein, saying "at no stage" did he "see or suspect" any criminal behaviour.

The statement said: "I am eager to clarify the facts to avoid further speculation. 

"I have stayed in a number of his residences. During the time I knew him, I saw him infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year. 

"At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction. 

"I have said previously that it was a mistake and an error to see him after his release in 2010 and I can only reiterate my regret that I was mistaken to think that what I thought I knew of him was evidently not the real person, given what we now know."

The duke - who said he first met Epstein in 1999 - added that he had "tremendous sympathy" for all those affected by Epstein's behaviour.

"His suicide has left many unanswered questions and I acknowledge and sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure," he said.

"This is a difficult time for everyone involved and I am at a loss to be able to understand or explain Mr Epstein's lifestyle.

"I deplore the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behaviour."

Allegations against Epstein began to surface in 2005 when the parents of a 14-year-old girl told police in Florida he had molested their daughter at his Palm Beach home.

The financier was accused of paying underage girls to perform sex acts at his Manhattan and Florida mansions between 2002 and 2005, however a controversial plea deal saw him plead guilty to the lesser charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution.

Prince Andrew was photographed with Epstein in New York's Central Park in late 2010 - after the tycoon was released from jail.

Footage has also recently emerged reportedly showing the prince at Epstein's mansion in Manhattan the same year.

Virginia Giuffre, an Epstein accuser who alleges she was made to have sex with the royal and other friends of the financier, said in 2011 testimony that the duke “knows the truth” about Epstein’s abuse of underage girls and should be forced to testify.

The prince has strongly denied the claims and in 2015 a court ordered that Ms Giuffre's allegations be struck from the record for being “immaterial and impertinent”.

Ms Giuffre's lawyer, Brad Edwards, has said that the prince should help the women Epstein abused by testifying.

"I look forward to coordinating a formal deposition where he will be given the opportunity to tell us everything he knows,” he said. 

“We would like to do this as soon as possible, at his convenience, and again we are very appreciative of his willingness to help.”

The Queen's third child was appointed at the UK's special representative for international trade and investment in 2001 after retiring from the Royal Navy.

However, he was forced to quit after the photographs of him and Epstein emerged.