Prescott adds to concern over Jackson's planned trip to Britain as child welfare groups call for ban

John Prescott added his voice yesterday to the growing chorus questioning the appropriateness of Michael Jackson's proposed Christmas visit to Britain, saying he was "a little bit surprised" that the pop star would be given special dispensation to travel abroad while facing charges of child molestation.

The Deputy Prime Minister gave no indication whether British authorities would actively seek to prevent Mr Jackson from entering the country, but his remarks added to the growing feeling that the 45-year-old celebrity may be having second thoughts about the wisdom of his trip.

Ostensibly, Mr Jackson would come to fulfil "contractual obligations" relating to his greatest hits record, Number Ones, but the visit has also been characterised by his entourage as a holiday.

"I was a little bit surprised that someone in America can be released from their [bail] condition of not travelling abroad in order to launch a CD," Mr Prescott told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost.

"I wonder whether that would have happened to an ordinary person who said, I want to go to visit my mum."

Mr Prescott stressed the importance of presuming Mr Jackson's innocence pending a trial, and said the decision on whether he should be allowed to travel rested entirely with the US judicial system. But he was far from the only one to suggest that leaving the US and facing the hounds of the British tabloid press may not be the most comfortable - or appropriate - way for Mr Jackson to pass the time while he awaits a formal arraignment scheduled for 16 January.

Child welfare groups and at least one Labour MP have urged the Home Office to block his entry. Mr Jackson's friend Uri Geller said the trip was "not the right decision".

"I do not think Michael should come here," he said. "My advice to him is that the the media structure here is devastating towards him. It is time for Michael to absorb things and meditate. He has to be with the few friends he has got in America, wherever they are, and with his family. It is not time to step off planes and to cause more controversy."

Mr Jackson threw a party on Saturday for family, friends and supporters at his Neverland Ranch in California to thank them for standing by him. The event even had a name - You Are Not Alone - taken from the title of a Jackson song. Ranks of television cameras watched hundreds of cars drive through the main gates for what one guest described as "a lot of food, a lot of eating, and a lot of celebration, camaraderie, holding hands, cheering and praising Michael Jackson".

Mr Jackson's spokesman, Stuart Backerman, said the star was "fighting mad" about the charges, centred on his relationship with a 12-year-old boy.

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