America’s top law enforcer has poured cold water on conspiracy theories about Jeffrey Epstein’s death, saying the wealthy financier’s suicide was the result of a “perfect storm of screw-ups”.
US Attorney General William Barr said he personally reviewed footage of Mr Epstein in his New York jail cell, confirming no-one entered the area the disgraced billionaire was housed on the night he died.
Although Mr Barr initially had his own suspicions about the untimely death in one of the most secure jails in America, he has concluded there were numerous irregularities at the Manhattan jail where Epstein was being held.
Mr Barr said a “series” of mistakes gave Epstein the chance to take his own life in August while awaiting trial on charges he sexually abused underage girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
“I can understand people who immediately, whose minds went to sort of the worst-case scenario because it was a perfect storm of screw-ups,” Mr Barr told AP in an interview.
Mr Barr’s comments come days after two correctional officers who were responsible for guarding the accused sex trafficker when he died were charged with falsifying prison records.
Instead of performing their duties and checking on Epstein every 30 minutes, officers Tova Noel and Michael Thomas were allegedly shopping online for furniture and motorcycles and sleeping.
Epstein had been taken off suicide watch about a week before his death – but was on heightened watch – and also did not have a cellmate as he should have.
Mr Barr, who leads the US Department of Justice, said systems were not followed.
“I think it was important to have a roommate in there with him and we’re looking into why that wasn’t done, and I think every indication is that was a screw-up.”
“The systems to assure that was done were not followed.”
Epstein’s death cast a spotlight on the federal Bureau of Prisons, which has been plagued by chronic staffing shortages and outbreaks of violence.
The indictment unsealed this week against the officers shows a damning glimpse of safety lapses inside a high-security unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York.
But the indictment also provided new details that the death was possibly preventable.
Mr Barr said federal prosecutors in New York were making good progress into the investigation of Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking and he was hopeful people “will see results soon”.
Prince Andrew under pressure
Meanwhile Prince Andrew, who has been accused of rape by one of Epstein’s victims, is under increasing pressure to co-operate with authorities.
US lawyers representing Epstein’s victims are calling on the Duke of York, who was friends with the accused, to co-operate with investigations and submit to an FBI interview.
In the latest fallout he has reportedly resigned from his role with his flagship business project Pitch@Palace after days of speculation about his future with the successful initiative he founded.