Jackson child sex scandal deepens

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The Independent Online
THE CHILD sex abuse scandal surrounding the pop star Michael Jackson deepened yesterday as the Los Angeles Times said police in California began focusing on his relationships with several other young boys - although the authorities have not confirmed that.

For the second time the 34-year-old entertainer, who has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, postponed a concert in Thailand saying he was ill, prompting speculation that he is planning to cancel his world tour and return home.

Jackson is under investigation by police after Jordan Chandler, the 13-year- old son of a wealthy Beverly Hills dentist, complained to a therapist that the star had abused him.

The boy is the subject of a bitter custody battle, in which his father sought a court order banning his mother from letting him to have contact with the multi-millionaire singer.

Matters appeared to worsen for Jackson yesterday when an 11-year-old boy appeared on NBC television in California and admitted sharing a bed with him. Brett Barnes, an Australian from Melbourne, said Jackson had kissed him 'like you kiss your mother', but insisted nothing untoward had occurred.

The boy, who was interviewed with his mother and sister, met Jackson 18 months ago and recently accompanied him on a visit to London.

He described how he was questioned by detectives, who have confirmed that they are conducting a criminal investigation into the entertainer. 'They were asking questions like, 'Do you sleep in the same bed? Do you think he buys the toys to make you not tell things?'

'But it's not true,' the boy continued. 'He didn't do anything like that. He didn't touch people in a different way than he should . . . He kisses? Yeah, like you kiss your mother. We slept in the same bed? Yes, I was on one side of the bed and he was on the other. It's not unusual for him to hug, kiss and nuzzle up to you? Yeah, just the fun stuff.'

The boy was reportedly at Neverland, Jackson's exotic ranch and fantasy amusement park, when a police sex- crime unit raided it at the weekend and seized videotapes and photographs.

When the news of the police investigation broke, representatives of Jackson claimed that he was the victim of a failed dollars 20m ( pounds 13.5m) extortion attempt which led to a baseless child abuse complaint to the authorities. Members of his family released a statement on Wednesday saying he was the victim of a 'cruel and obvious attempt to take advantage of his fame and success'.

As the controversy bubbled on, disappointed Jackson fans in Bangkok were being told that the superstar had decided to postpone his sold-out 'Dangerous' concert for the second day running. Jackson, who is on the first leg of a world tour, claimed that he was ill after performing in extreme heat on Tuesday.

In a tape-recorded message played to reporters, he apologised to his fans and promised to perform today.

Whatever the outcome of the police inquiry, it is becoming increasingly clear that his career will be damaged. His world tour is being sponsored by Pepsi- Cola, which is estimated to have invested up to dollars 50m ( pounds 33.75m) on the promotion.

Pepsi executives have been at pains to emphasise that there is no reason for the company to alter its plans, as there is no solid evidence. However, several entertainment industry experts in Los Angeles have predicted that Jackson's value as a product endorser has evaporated.

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