IF THERE’S been one overriding lesson that these last few months have taught us, it’s that we live in a world of privilege – where folk like you and me play by one set of rules, and usually end up losing, while the rich and powerful deal themselves from a different deck and always come out on top.

It’s the poor whose bodies have piled up in morgues across the world during coronavirus, not the rich. It’s ordinary workers who crammed into public transport risking infection as lockdowns eased. It was our most vulnerable – the elderly – who bore the lethal brunt of the pandemic in care homes.

The rich and powerful faced none of those threats. They flout the rules they tell us to obey, like Dominic Cummings; they demand workers get back in the harness while they travel by limousine. Money buys a lot of protection. It’s impossible to measure the true distance between a tower block and a gated mansion.

The death of George Floyd in America at the hands of a white police officer and the resulting furious protests around the Western world remind us that even amid pandemic there’s stark differences in how black people and white people live and die. The colour of your skin often determines how the state treats you – in some cases it can be a death sentence.

One story, which epitomises the grotesqueries of privilege in the 21st century, hoped to hunker down and be forgotten as pandemic and racism occupied our minds: the allegations that Prince Andrew had sex with a 17-year-old girl who was trafficked by the billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

The Prince still hasn’t been spoken to by British police in connection with the allegations. Officers decided not to pursue an investigation into whether the claims could amount to an offence. Epstein, Prince Andrew’s friend, killed himself in custody while awaiting trial for sex trafficking. He’d previously pleaded guilty to procuring an underage girl for prostitution. However, Epstein was treated like royalty, serving just 13 months – and allowed to leave prison for 12 hours a day six days a week.

READ MORE: Epstein inquiry: Prince Andrew falsely portraying himself as willing to aid inquiry

No other man or woman in Britain would be treated in the same way as Prince Andrew given the allegations against him. If anyone else was accused of having sex with a trafficked 17-year-old their house would be raided, they’d be led away in handcuffs, and they’d appear in court to either clear their name or face justice for their crimes.

Not so with Andrew. Nor Andrew’s friend Ghislaine Maxwell – who’s been accused of acting as Epstein’s procuress, seeking out victims for the billionaire financier to sexually abuse. Maxwell is the embodiment of the British elite, the untouchable daughter of the pension-thief tycoon Robert Maxwell. Like Andrew, she moves through the world, protected by her vast power, wealth and connections.

Again, if any other man or woman in Britain had been accused of the crimes that Maxwell has been accused of, they’d have been handcuffed, arrested and would now be facing court where a jury would decide if they were guilty or innocent. Maxwell denies any wrongdoing and denies that Prince Andrew ever had sex with Roberts.

A few things have changed in recent days, however, when it comes to Prince Andrew. A new documentary appeared – Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich – in which an eyewitness corroborates the key accusation against Andrew.

Virginia Roberts says she was 17 when she was first made to have sex with Andrew by Epstein. Now, a former employee of Epstein has come forward to say that he saw the Prince with Virginia Roberts. Steve Scully says he witnessed Andrew behaving sexually towards a young woman he says was Roberts while on Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean.

During the widely ridiculed television interview in which Andrew denied all allegations, he claimed he had “no recollection” of meeting Roberts. He even questioned the authenticity of a picture showing him with his arm around Roberts in London. Scully’s account seems to contradict the Prince’s version of events. Now Roberts has testimony apparently supporting her claims.

Yesterday, it emerged that the US Department of Justice has filed a mutual legal assistance request to the Home Office asking to speak to Andrew in relation to Epstein’s crimes. He could soon be forced to appear in a British court as a witness. However, Andrew would have the right to "plead the fifth amendment" under the American constitution, remaining silent in court in order not to incriminate himself.

Any evidence provided by Andrew may be heard in camera – privately, away from the press and public.

This all brings into focus the question: why have British police still not questioned Andrew? Virginia Roberts says she was trafficked to Andrew in London, New York and the Caribbean.

READ MORE: Prince Andrew made three offers of help to US authorities over Epstein says lawyers

If a crime is alleged to have occurred on British soil then it’s an easy matter for police to question the suspect.

If a crime is alleged to have been committed by a British citizen on foreign soil, UK police can still act. Sex offenders have been prosecuted in Britain for crimes committed overseas.

In any similar case, involving a British citizen and such allegations, the public would be discussing extradition abroad or prosecution at home. With Andrew, we haven’t even got to the stage of a police interview.

When it comes to Ghislaine Maxwell, nobody even knows where she is – she seems to have disappeared. It should be a matter of urgency for British and American police that they find her and treat her just the same as any other person who’s been accused of similar sexual offences.

Both Maxwell and Prince Andrew strenuously, vehemently, emphatically, deny all allegations against them.

The obscene extremes of inequality in modern life must end. Whether it’s about race, pandemic or criminality, there must be one rule for us all. Not one rule for the rich and powerful, and one for the likes of you and I.

We’ve spent a lot of breath talking about rebuilding a better world after Covid. Here’s a start: the criminal justice system must treat Prince Andrew and his friend Ghislaine Maxwell just as anyone else would be treated under the law.

If my next-door neighbour was accused of sex offences, I’d be angry if they weren’t led from my street in handcuffs. I’d want to see them in court where they could either prove their innocence or face retribution and imprisonment for their crimes.

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