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Maid lands Jackson in hot water

MICHAEL JACKSON'S battle to salvage his career and reputation suffered another setback after a former maid claimed that she left her job two years ago after seeing him naked with young boys, writes Phil Reeves.

The Los Angeles Times, the staid voice of the Californian establishment, which has played down the scandal, reported that Bianca Francia claimed to have seen Jackson in a shower and a Jacuzzi with naked boys. She also says she found the 35-year-old singer in a sleeping bag with a boy, adding: 'I was disgusted.'

Her testimony joins allegations which Larry Feldman, the lawyer for a 13-year-old boy who claims he was sexually molested, is preparing for a civil lawsuit against Jackson, scheduled to begin in March. Los Angeles police expect to complete their inquiries next month.

The singer is back at his California ranch, Neverland, after a dismal month in hiding, during which five former security guards announced they were suing him because they were fired 'for knowing too much' and his sister, LaToya, publicly accused him of being a child molester.

Jackson reportedly agreed to return only after striking a deal with the Los Angeles District Attorney, which included an agreement that any physical examination - to check for characteristics identified by the boy - would remain secret.

His lawyers had said he would come back after receiving treatment for addiction to painkillers - which they expected to take six to eight weeks.