Stepping furtively through the streets of Paris, her face mysteriously shrouded, the figure in the heavy shawl was bound to attract attention – and so it proved.

It was months following the suicide attempt of Jeffrey Epstein. And the woman who seemed so anxious to avoid attention bore a remarkable resemblance to Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell – now the most hunted woman on the planet. Is it possible that she had fled America for France.

Epstein’s death in New York in August 2019 was the catalyst for attention to shift towards Ghislaine her longtime partner. She had not been charged with any crime. Victims of Epstein accused her of being a ‘madam’ – claims she vehemently denies and will vigorously contest in court when her trial begins later this month.

Victims of Jeffrey Epstein accused Ghislaine Maxwell (Pictured) of being a ‘madam’ – claims she vehemently denies and will vigorously contest in court when her trial begins later this month

Victims of Jeffrey Epstein accused Ghislaine Maxwell (Pictured) of being a ‘madam’ – claims she vehemently denies and will vigorously contest in court when her trial begins later this month

Today, for the first time, we can reveal the lengths that Ghislaine went to in order to keep a low profile – which included the extraordinary tactic of hiring ‘lookalikes’ to stroll through Paris to dupe the world’s media.

In an exclusive interview, British security expert Matt Hellyer, a decorated former Paratrooper who headed the crack security team staffed with ex-SAS members that guarded the heiress for a year, said: ‘We went to an agency in France. An agency that collaborates with security. Two people resemble Ghislaine’s brother Kevin, they found us.

‘They strolled in Paris for a couple of days and we leaked it to a newspaper. We did this to distract from Ghislaine’s real location. At all times, she was in the US.

‘Ghislaine was not running from the authorities, she was running from the media.

‘And, you know, many people don’t believe Epstein killed himself. So we were also hired to protect her from a potential killer.’

The astonishing details of Ghislaine Maxwell’s year-long cat and mouse ‘game’ can be revealed for the first time today.

She insists that, far from ‘being on the run’ as many have accused her of being, she was, in fact, available at all times to the American authorities had they wished to question her.

Instead, she says, the FBI staged a dramatic early-morning raid on her final hideaway – an £800,000 estate in New Hampshire – to gain maximum publicity and paint her in the worst light possible.

Mr Hellyer, a friend of Ghislaine’s brother Kevin, was hired within hours of Epstein’s death.

A friend of Ghislaine’s brother Kevin (pictured ) Mr Hellyer, was hired within hours of Epstein’s death to 'get her out of her home'

A friend of Ghislaine’s brother Kevin (pictured ) Mr Hellyer, was hired within hours of Epstein’s death to ‘get her out of her home’

At the time, Ghislaine was living in a secluded £3 million ocean-front property in Manchester-by-Sea, Massachusets, with her husband Scott Borgerson, the couple’s dogs and Scott’s two children.

In his first interview for a new documentary Ghislaine, which will air in the UK and US after her November 29 trial ends, Mr Hellyer said: ‘Our assignment was to get her out of her home within 12 hours of Epstein’s death. She was worried about Scott’s kids. She didn’t want the cameras around them or anything to happen that could affect their lives. She asked me if we could immediately fly her out. She refused.’

Ghislaine claims she didn’t intend to flee the US and was refused bail four times this week. Why would she leave the US? Elle insists that she is innocent of any charges against her for procuring young girls for Epstein, and engaging in sexual assaults on them. She was 14 years old when her youngest victim is alleged to be.

Ghislaine, who holds US, French, and UK passports, chose to stay in America, something she says she believes is a clear sign of her honesty.

But she was constantly on the move, from one ‘safe house’ to another, as she tried to outrun the media.

Mr Hellyer recalled: ‘Scott felt he could protect her but we convinced him she had to go. From then on, it was, “Where in the world is Ghislaine?” Everyone was speculating.

‘We did not hide her from the authorities. They knew that at any point if they wanted to talk to Ghislaine we would bring her safely to them.’

Indeed, Ghislaine’s legal team claim they reached out to the FBI – but never heard back.

Some media outlets offered readers lucrative ‘bounties’ for the first pictures of the elusive heiress.

Ghislaine was once photographed in front of an In-N-Out hamburger joint in Los Angeles. It was bizarre that she was actually reading The Book of Honour: The Secret Lives & Deaths of CIA Operatives.

A Ghislaine lookalike (pictured) in Paris to dupe the world’s media and help her keep a low profile

A Ghislaine lookalike (pictured) in Paris to dupe the world’s media and help her keep a low profile

According to reports at the time, a stunned fellow diner asked: ‘Are you who I think you are?’ to which she replied: ‘Yes, I am.’

The photo was examined and some claimed it to be fake. A poster that was placed at the bus stop in front of her was long gone by the time she took the photograph.

Yet Ghislaine really was in Los Angeles – staying at the home of an old friend. Was it really a stunt?

Mr Hellyer says not, adding: ‘We had to move her immediately after that photo came out.’

Ghislaine was still on the move, despite speculations about her location reaching fever pitch.

Everybody had a theory. Each one was wilder than others. The New York Post suggested she might have been in Israel, or on a sub-sea vessel (she’s a certified submarine pilot). There were rumours she was with Epstein’s friend, former model agent Jean-Luc Brunel, in Brazil.

Is she an agent of Mossad? Mossad was the Israeli intelligence agency connected to Robert Maxwell (a disgraced newspaper owner). Is it possible that Israeli agents had seen her being taken away at night?

There were theories that she was holed up in a private villa in the South of France, had been ‘hidden’ by South African supporters deep in the bush, and even that she was in an underground bunker owned by rich and powerful friends who were terrified of the secrets she might ‘spill’ if she chose to tell all.

There were sightings in New Zealand, the Caribbean, London… and, yes, Paris.

The Sun reported she had been seen at the scene and that she claimed to be able to identify herself from her distinctive signet rings.

‘She rarely went out, but when she did, she wore a large patterned blanket which she pulled tightly around her face and draped across her shoulders,’ it said.

‘She clearly didn’t want to be recognised and was able to blend in.’

It was an excellent ruse. Epstein lived in an apartment on Avenue Foch near the Arc de Triomphe. It is now on the market for £10 million. Ghislaine’s mother is French and Ghislaine was born in France and has French citizenship.

‘Everyone loved the Paris sighting,’ said a source close to the case. ‘Sometimes it’s a matter of giving the people what they want. Everyone was happy for awhile, but the sighting sent dogs running down the wrong path. She never left America.’

Ghislaine, in reality, would go from one safe home to another, but always with darkness.

To avoid being tracked, she changed her mobile phone frequently and only spoke to those closest to her.

All she had to buy was cash. But by early last year, she was tired of being, in effect, ‘homeless’.

Mr Hellyer said: ‘She missed her family. She was becoming tired. She needed a home.’

Ghislaine told her security team: ‘Enough running!’ A refuge was found in the sleepy town of Bradford, New Hampshire, an hour’s drive away from the home she shared with her husband and stepchildren.

This tranquil spot was located in the middle of 156 acres rural forest, which made it the ideal place for her to unwind and not run.

Mr Hellyer said: ‘She and Scott and the kids reunited at weekend. The family and her pets were brought to our home. They were able to be a real, loving family.’

All that was changed in the wee hours of July 2, 2020.

Ghislaine, her guards and others heard an aircraft fly directly above the property just before 5am.

Mr Hellyer recalled: ‘I immediately knew it was the authorities. We were already in the Pandemic Lockdown. What small plane could it be unless it was the authorities?’

He insists Ghislaine was trained to go to a ‘safe room’ and did not try to flee as FBI agents broke through the door, as authorities claimed in a press conference later that day.

FBI assistant director William Sweeney told assembled reporters: ‘She is one of the villains… who slithered away to a gorgeous property where she was continuing to live a life of privilege while her victims live with the trauma inflicted upon them years ago.’

But Mr Hellyer claimed: ‘She did exactly what she was told by us. She didn’t flee from authorities, as some claim.

‘The moment we identified it was the authorities, she cooperated.

‘She was not handcuffed.

‘She asked to say goodbye to her beloved animals.’

Ghislaine’s brother Ian added: ‘The authorities knew at all times where my sister was, so to have this “big show”, the aeroplanes, the press conference. They knew what they wanted. Clearly.’

This is an accusation that the FBI refutes. In court filings agents claimed they tracked her via her mobile, which she opened in the name of ‘G Max’ and used to call her sister Isabel.

Ghislaine spent each night behind bars since that time. Within weeks, a jury will decide if she will walk free – or remain locked up for ever.