Journalist who sparked trial could face massive lawsuit

THE British journalist who triggered one of the most high-profile criminal trials in history stayed out of the limelight yesterday amid reports he could face a muli-million-euro lawsuit from Michael Jackson Martin Bashir, who made the documentary film.

Living With Michael Jackson, and the television company Granada could face a multi-million-euro lawsuit from the self-styled King of Pop.

Jackson was incensed by the film when it was originally broadcast in February 2003 and said he felt “utterly betrayed” by Mr Bashir.

The Jackson camp began legal moves almost immediately after the film was shown, but a High Court action was shelved when Jackson was arrested in November 2003.

Following his acquittal on Monday, the legal campaign against Mr Bashir may be stepped up.

The star’s lawyers claim the journalist breached Jackson’s confidence, having agreed to allow him to see the programme before broadcast and not to show the Jackson children without masks.

In the explosive film, Jackson admitted, and defended, allowing boys to sleep with him in his bed.

With what appeared to them to be a virtual confession of inappropriate behaviour, prosecutors and police jumped into action, raiding Jackson’s Neverland ranch, arresting him and putting him on trial.

Gavin Arvizo, the 13-year-old cancer survivor seen resting his head on Jackson’s shoulder in the film, became the prosecution’s star witness.

But it was Mr Bashir who gave evidence first, after the full 90-minute documentary was shown to the jury.

He was reluctant to do so and had to be subpoenaed. It was the first time he and Jackson had seen each other since the film and the star was noticeably agitated.

After the courtroom encounter, he said he felt angry.

There was also an unexpected twist as Mr Bashir refused to answer a series of questions from Jackson’s chief defence attorney Thomas Mesereau.

The unanswered questions included how many hours of videotape were recorded during the making of the programme.

Mr Mesereau asked Judge Rodney Melville to find Mr Bashir in contempt of court.

But Mr Bashir invoked California’s shield law which protects journalists from having to disclose their sources.

In doing so, he was fully backed by his current employers, the US network ABC News, who said he should not have to answer questions which “invade the news gathering process.”

Mr Mesereau also played excerpts to the jury from a tape shot by Jackson’s videographer during the making of the documentary.

They included Jackson saying that letting children into his bed was not sexual and that he would never hurt a child.

And at one point Mr Bashir heaped praise on Jackson, telling him: “your relationship with your children is spectacular and, in fact, it almost makes me weep when I see you with them because your interaction with them is so natural, so loving, so caring.”

Mr Bashir and Granada have denied any distortion and say the documentary was an “honest film.”

The journalist first hit the headlines in 1995 when he persuaded Diana, Princess of Wales to open her heart in her famous interview with Panorama.

The 42-year-old now lives in New York where he is a correspondent for ABC.

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