AceShowbiz - Suggestions that a photo of Prince Andrew with his arm around Virginia Giuffre is a "fake" have been labelled "ridiculous" by a photographer who handled the original image. The photographer's comment comes after Ghislaine Maxwell's new interview.
Ghislaine - who is sentenced to 20 years in jail for sex trafficking and grooming underage girls for late billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein - again cast doubt on the authenticity of the picture earlier this week while the Duke of York also previously insisted he didn't remember the photo being taken and declared he was "not one to hug" or "display affection" in public.
Meanwhile, Virginia - who sued the royal for allegedly sexually assaulting her when she was 17 after being trafficked by Epstein before reaching an out-of-court settlement - insisted that the photo was "authentic" and she had given the FBI the original in 2011.
And now, Michael Thomas - who took 39 copies of the image before it was handed over to the FBI - has blasted conspiracy theories surrounding the photo.
Virginia first showed the photo - which she claimed was taken the night she had sex with Andrew at the bidding of Maxwell and Epstein - to the photographer Mail on Sunday reporter Sharon Churcher in February 2011.
As is standard practice when handling sensitive images, she allowed Michael to take photographs of the original print - the whereabouts of which is currently unknown - and he took dozens of the front and the back. He recalled to the Mail on Sunday, "She handed me the photograph and I put it on the table in the hotel room and I copied it."
"I think I took more than 30 frames, which is overkill for copying one photo but I didn't want to get it out of focus or get it wrong because I knew how important it was. I was holding the original photo in my hand. It was a normal 6x4 inch print that you would have got from any developer at the time."
"It looked like it was ten years old. It wasn't crisp because it had been developed in 2001. She had held on to it for ten years by the time I saw it. For Ghislaine Maxwell to come out and say it was fake is ridiculous."
"I held the photo. It was a normal photograph. It was a physical print. It exists. I saw it and that's what I photographed and that's what you see now... When they say it's fake, they are saying that I'm involved. They are basically accusing someone of faking it and me being party to it. It's not fake - and it never has been."
The back of the photo, which has never publicly been seen before, shows a stamp that reads "000 #15 13Mar01 Walgreens One Hour Photo." The information means the picture was developed in a one-hour service on March 13, 2001 at a branch of Walgreens.
Meanwhile, amid reports Andrew is planning to attempt to have his undisclosed settlement to Virginia overturned, Maxwell's family have spoken out in support.
While Virginia has alleged she and the disgraced duke had sex in the bath at Maxwell's house in London, Maxwell's relatives insisted that it was too small for them to have engaged in any sexual activity and even created a mock reconstruction - featuring two people approximately the size of the prince and his accuser - in the tub and shared its dimensions, 1,359mm by 380mm.
Maxwell's brother, Ian Maxwell, said, "If anything Andrew is a bit bigger, a bit broader than the man in the bath in the photo. You can see how small the bathroom is and how small the bath is. The idea that two people can get in there and she bats her eyes and takes her clothes off and has sex in the bath is impossible."
"The only way you can start to change public perception around that is to provide incontrovertible visual evidence. People can now look at this photo in the bath and judge for themselves. I am putting it out, and if that helps Prince Andrew then so be it. If Prince Andrew wants to use it, we will make it available to him."