Jackson: 'Not wrong to sleep with children'

Accused star says he will no longer live at his Neverland ranch after it was 'violated' by police search
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The Independent US

Michael Jackson will begin his fight-back against charges that he sexually molested a child by telling millions of Americans tonight that there's nothing wrong with sharing a bed with children. He will also reveal that he is to abandon his spectacular - and now infamous - Neverland ranch home, after it was "violated" by police searches.

In his first interview since he was arrested in November, Jackson tells CBS's Ed Bradley on the 60 Minutes programme that he would sooner slit his wrists than hurt a child.

Strongly denying the charges against him, Jackson, 45, says that he sees nothing wrong with having children sleep with him. "Of course. Why not?" he says in the interview, recorded on Christmas night at a Los Angeles hotel. "If you're going to be a paedophile, if you're going to be Jack the Ripper, if you're going to be a murderer, it's not a good idea. That I am not... Before I would hurt a child, I would slit my wrists."

Jackson, charged with seven counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14, and two counts of administering an "intoxicating agent" to facilitate sexual contact, goes on to say that the police search of Neverland ranch, California, after his arrest on 20 November was excessive, and violated his private space. "I won't live there ever again. It's a house now. It's not a home any more. I'll only visit."

The charges against Jackson relate to the alleged drugging and repeated abuse of a 13-year-old boy who had been undergoing treatment for cancer. The star is currently on £1.8m bail. A preliminary court appearance has been set for mid-January. The star has already written off the accusations against him as "a big lie", while his spokesman, Stuart Backerman, said Jackson was "fighting mad" about the charges. In the CBS interview, Jackson talks about his spell in custody and an injury he claims he suffered when police handcuffed him.

Jackson's last TV interview, with the British journalist Martin Bashir, was broadcast in February in the US, and was watched by 27 million people. Following that programme's transmission, Jackson issued a series of strongly worded rebuttals of statements made in the interview, and accused Mr Bashir of bad faith.

Last week, Jackson seemed to have cancelled a visit to Britain to promote his new greatest-hits CD. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, added to the furore over the visit when he told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "I must confess 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."

Jackson's disenchantment with his 2,500-acre Neverland home could bring the curtain down on one of the world's great private entertainment palaces. During the 1990s the ranch, north of Santa Barbara, witnessed an extraordinary series of lavish parties attended by most of America's A-list film and music celebrities.

For some time, Jackson's own financial position has been in question. Invincible, his last album of original material, sold a relatively paltry two million copies in the US, while Forbes magazine recently estimated Jackson's personal wealth as $350m, but pointed out that his debts were around $200m. The annual electricity bill alone at Neverland is believed to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In September, Jackson opened the Neverland estate to paying visitors - $5,000 for a ticket and a guided tour - but sales flopped, with oneguest reporting that there were more staff on duty than visitors. However, just days ago the star still managed to host one more party. Hundreds attended a huge morale-boosting event, dubbed the You Are Not Alone party after one of his hits. Tennis star Serena Williams, rapper MC Hammer and Jackson's sister LaToya were among more than 600 guests at what could be the last Neverland party.

Even now, the minutiae of his life scrutinised as never before, the self-proclaimed King of Pop can still produce the occasional surprise. Just two days ago, news broke that Jackson may well have married, for the third time. According to the US magazine The Globe, Jackson wed a "brilliant", "stunning", 23-year-old Muslim pianist named Alisha this summer at a ceremony at Neverland that was consecrated by an imam.