Bashir avoids the cameras

The British journalist who triggered one of the most high profile criminal trials in history was staying out of the limelight today.

The British journalist who triggered one of the most high profile criminal trials in history was staying out of the limelight today.

Martin Bashir, who made the documentary film Living With Michael Jackson, and the television company Granada could now face a multimillion-pound 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 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 yesterday, the legal campaign against Mr Bashir may now 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.

Other exclusives followed, including interviews with killer nanny Louise Woodward and the five suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case.

But it was the Jackson documentary which brought him worldwide fame. An audience of 27 million Americans tuned in to watch it and ABC snapped him up in a reported million-dollar deal in 2004.

The 42-year-old now lives in New York where he is a correspondent for ABC’s flagship current affairs show 2020. The show said he would not be making any immediate comment but may do so later.

Mr Bashir’s success is a far cry from his childhood growing up on a south London council estate, where he has said the only book in the house was a rent book.

His parents are from Pakistan and he went to a local comprehensive before studying English at Southampton University.

At 18 he converted to Christianity and went on to study religious history at King’s College, London, before beginning his career as a football reporter.

Now a star interviewer, he does have his detractors.

Today Uri Geller, a friend of Jackson’s, said of the verdict: “I was immensely relieved because I introduced Martin Bashir to Michael Jackson and, looking at it now in hindsight, I made a terrible mistake.

“I feel today that Martin Bashir betrayed us both.”

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