Andrew wasted thousands using helicopters like taxis, say officials

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The Independent Online

Prince Andrew has been accused of wasting thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money chartering jets and helicopters in order to play golf. An official report by the National Audit Office has criticised the fourth in line to the throne - dubbed the Junket of York and Air Miles Andy - for using the Queen's helicopter and RAF aircraft when he could easily travel by train.

Prince Andrew has been accused of wasting thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money chartering jets and helicopters in order to play golf. An official report by the National Audit Office has criticised the fourth in line to the throne - dubbed the Junket of York and Air Miles Andy - for using the Queen's helicopter and RAF aircraft when he could easily travel by train.

The report says that he spent £3,000 on a helicopter to travel 50 miles for lunch with Arab dignitaries; and £32,000 in 2004 alone, using the RAF to fly him to St Andrews and back during his year as captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourne, headed the inquiry into Andrew's spending over two years. While clearing the Prince of any wrongdoing, the inquiry dismissed his claims that travelling by train was "unreliable".

It is not the first time that Andrew's love of golf and jet-setting has landed him in hot water. Ten years ago the Labour MP Tony Banks described him as a "useless overweight parasite" for hiring a private jet to attend the Open Golf Championship in Scotland. In 2001 he spent £10,000 of taxpayers' money taking a jet of the Queen's Flight, costing £5,300 an hour, to watch the final stages of the Open at Lytham St Anne's in Lancashire.

And last year Palace accounts revealed that he had spent £325,000 on flights, including £2,939 on a helicopter to make the 120-mile round trip to Oxford, and RAF planes to St Andrews for two golfing jaunts after he was elected captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club last May. He also came under fire for attending a golfing dinner at St Andrews instead of joining the D-Day anniversary celebrations in France.

Critics have noted how visits in the Prince's official capacity as a roving ambassador for trade to exotic locations tend to coincide with sporting events. His role as the special representative of British Trade International (BTI) last year funded trips to Bahrain, where he watched the Grand Prix, and to St Vincent, Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and Barbados. On the eve of a visit to China he generated more anger by implying British workers as lazy. "The British are known as the Monday to Friday people in China," he said.

In 2002 he managed to join bikini clad girls on a Brazilian millionaire's speedboat during an eight-day business trip to South America that cost the taxpayer £130,000. But it isn't just golf and junketing at the taxpayers' expense that has caused trouble for the ageing "Playboy Prince", who has a fortune estimated at £13m and receives £249,000 a year from the Civil List. In 2001, he was pictured lounging on a yacht off the coat of Thailand surrounded by topless young women. "I was just reading my book and wasn't really aware of what everyone else was doing," he joked.

Later that year the Palace held its breath when the Prince travelled to New York, the first member of the Royal Family to visit America after 11 September 2001. They breathed a sigh of relief as Andrew met relatives of the victims of the Twin Towers attacks with courtesy and respect and announced an honorary knighthood for the city's mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. But the Prince, ensconced in a $2,000-a-night hotel in midtown Manhattan, soon proved Prince Charles's apt description of him as a "fizzy drink that has been shaken up and the top taken off".

It was later reported that the Duke of York had partied with a "bevy of Russian beauties", "into the early hours in the company of exotic guests at a champagne bash" and tried to "woo the model Sophie Dahl over dinner". The stories were denied.

To his supporters all this criticism is unfair. They say the Prince's reputation proceeds him. He is, for example, teetotal and served his country for 22 years in the Royal Navy. This included action during the Falklands conflict as a helicopter pilot. He could have got out of active duty but chose not to, and when he returned with a rose between his teeth, the image of a dashing young royal warrior returning victorious was a public relations dream.

It has been all downhill from there. His occasional gaffes - such as saying it was only a matter of time before a plane fell out of the sky in the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster - have not helped. Such is the embarrassment that two years ago he was warned to rein in his behaviour or risk being sacked from his role as trade ambassador.

"Prince Andrew does have an image problem and it's something that needs to be addressed," a BTI official said. "Companies look to him to open doors and fly the flag for British business abroad. He does a good job and works very hard. But then you get a story appearing about him being with a load of topless women on a boat. If he goes on a trade mission and then he is photographed on a beach, the inference is that he is using public funds to finance his holidays."

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said: "The National Audit Office has totally exonerated the Duke of York from inappropriate use of public funds in the use of transport for official engagements."

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