Trial date set for Jackson

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A GRAND JURY in California is preparing to decide whether Michael Jackson should be indicted for alleged sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy, one of the superstar's lawyers claimed last night.

In a serious blow to the multi-millionaire entertainer, a court in Los Angeles also quashed his attempt to delay for six years a civil lawsuit filed by the child. Instead, the judge set a trial date for March, and ordered the singer to make a deposition under oath to the child's lawyer by the end of January.

At a preliminary hearing over the civil suit, Jackson's attorney, Bertram Fields, admitted for the first time that his famous client would 'probably be indicted' and told a judge that a grand-jury decision over charges should be taken soon.

After the hearing, Mr Fields played down his comments by saying the grand jury had yet to be empanelled, although he said that it had already issued subpoenas to two witnesses.

It will sit behind closed doors in Santa Barbara County, where the entertainer has his 2,700-acre ranch, Neverland.

Twelve days ago Jackson abruptly cancelled his 'Dangerous' world tour, saying that he was addicted to painkillers.

He is believed to have booked into a private clinic in London. The singer is being investigated by Los Angeles police after a 13-year-old boy alleged he sexually abused him during a four-month relationship. Jackson's aides maintain that the star is a victim of a failed dollars 20m (pounds 13.5m) extortion attempt.

Pressure on the embattled superstar intensified still further this week with a decision by five of his former security guards to sue him, alleging that they were fired for knowing too much about 'many night-time visits with young boys'.

According to their lawyer, the guards were summarily dismissed from Jackson's family mansion in Los Angeles last February after witnessing the entertainer coming and going with a number of boys.

The attorney, Charles Mathews, has also alleged that the star ordered one of the guards to destroy a photograph in the house of a naked boy.

The guards, who have filed a lawsuit seeking unspecified damages, also allege that they have been harassed by Jackson's lawyers and followed by a private investigator to 'prevent any investigation or inquiry' dealing with child- molestation allegations.