Jackson gives himself up to police after arrest warrant for molestation charges

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The Independent US

Michael Jackson was taken into police custody in handcuffs yesterday to face multiple charges of child molestation. After two days of suspense during which his whereabouts were unclear, he flew into Santa Barbara airport from Las Vegas, where he had been shooting a video, and surrendered to sheriff's deputies.

They escorted him to their headquarters. Television cameras picked up images of Mr Jackson, wearing a black velvet jacket jerking his cuffed hands slightly behind his back before entering the building. In what appeared to be part of a deal worked out between law enforcement officers and Mr Jackson's lawyers, the television cameras were not in a position to capture his face as he walked the few steps from the unmarked police vehicle to the front entrance.

The 45-year-old singer was later released on bail, which has been set at $3m (£1.8m) and includes a stipulation that he surrender his passport. He waved to reporters, flashed a V-sign and climbed into a black sports utility vehicle that drove away with an escort of three sheriff's motorcycle officers.

Jackson's lawyer Mark Geragos said: "He's come back specifically to confront these charges head-on. He is greatly outraged by the bringing of these charges. He considers this to be a big lie.

"Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons. The truth will win this marathon in court," the singer said in a statement.

His arrest follows several months of investigation into alleged child sexual abuse at his sprawling Neverland ranch in the rolling wine country north-west of Santa Barbara. Dozens of police officers spent almost 13 hours at the ranch on Tuesday searching for evidence in the case, and also searched two other locations in southern California. It appears they were looking primarily for videotapes depicting Mr Jackson in the company of the children he frequently invites to play and stay at his ranch.

The county sheriff and district attorney have said they expect to file formal criminal charges soon for lewd and lascivious behaviour with a minor, a crime that carries a penalty of between three and eight years in prison for a conviction on the first count, and as much as two extra years behind bars for each subsequent count.

Mr Jackson's spokesman has described the charges, which appear to stem from the testimony of one 12-year-old boy, as "scurrilous" and "outrageous". Mr Jackson has gone on record in the past to say there is nothing sexual about his habit of inviting pre-teen boys to sleep over and climbing into bed with them.

Some drama surrounded Mr Jackson's movements in the 24 hours leading up to his arrest. On Wednesday afternoon, he was reported to have been escorted to his private jet in Las Vegas following completion of his work on a music video to promote his latest album of greatest hits. But the plane did not head to the Santa Barbara area and appears to have returned to Las Vegas.

Whether this was a delaying tactic, or part of a ruse to avoid excessive media coverage, Mr Jackson's entourage made clear that the singer wanted to maintain some control over his fate. "They [the legal team] will choose their own time and their own place to do this," the family lawyer, Brian Oxman, told a morning television show a few hours before the arrest.

The consensus among legal experts, public relations specialists and some of Mr Jackson'srepresentatives is that he is in even deeper trouble now than 10 years ago when he was first accused of child molestation. The teenager who had made the allegationsdropped his claims after reaching a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement with the singer.

Largely because ofSanta Barbara prosecutors' 13-month investigation of Mr Jackson at the time, the law has since been changed and prosecutors have the power to block civil suits during abuse-related criminal proceedings. That means, in effect, that an accused child molester no longer has the option to offer money to witnesses as a way to persuade them not to testify.

A flurry of speculation has surrounded the identity of the 12-year-old boy who has made the accusations. According to two news organisations, the boy came forward after he had been teased on the schoolyard about his friendship with Mr Jackson and entered therapy. His therapist then reported to police that the boy had described Mr Jackson plying him with wine and sleeping pills before molesting him. There is no way to confirm these reports because court records on the case have been sealed. Mr Jackson's representatives have said little other than to say that the allegations are untrue.

Mr Jackson's lawyer, Mark Geragos, accompanied him to Santa Barbara. "He's come specifically to confront these charges head on," Mr Geragos said. "He is outraged by ... these charges. He considers this to be a big lie. He understands the people who are outraged, because if these charges were true ... Michael would be the first to be outraged."