Jackson abuse case dropped

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IN A MOVE that has done little to remove the scandal surrounding Michael Jackson, prosecutors said they had ended their investigations into whether he sexually abused a 13-year-old boy - but said the file would remain open for five more years.

They also revealed that they had interviewed 400 witnesses during their 13-month investigations and had uncovered allegations that the multi-millionaire entertainer was involved in sexual misconduct with two other boys.

The decision to close the Jackson inquiry was announced in Los Angeles last night, in a press conference by the District Attorneys for Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, both of whom refused to exonerate him. Their departments had been investigating the superstar since shortly after Jordan Chandler, now 14, first claimed he was abused.

Earlier this year, Mr Jackson's lawyers negotiated a dollars 32m ( pounds 21m) out-of-court settlement in a civil case brought by Jordan, who has subsequently refused to testify. Under California law, a victim of sexual abuse cannot be forced to take the stand.

Tom Sneddon, the District Attorney of Santa Barbara County, said that another alleged victim was interviewed about 'a single incident' of abuse, but it had been decided not to proceed because the child would have been the only witness in the case. Information had also been uncovered about a third child, outside the US, who was 'unavailable for interview' but had made general denials.

The case could, however, be reopened at any time before the statute of limitations runs out in five years' time, if new information emerges.

'After about 13 or 14 months of investigation this is our conclusion: We have a very important witness who has told us 'I'm sorry. I do not want to and will not testify',' said Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles District Attorney. 'If he steps forward a month from now, two months from now, and says 'Now I want to testify', we would re-evaluate our case at that time.'

Jackson, 36, who recently married Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, has maintained his innocence throughout the scandal, which has severely damaged both his image and his career.