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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 14:32 GMT
Jackson circus masks serious charge

By Daniela Relph
BBC correspondent in Santa Barbara

Nobody really knew for sure. Where was Michael Jackson? The rumour, the speculation grew by the hour, as did the press pack.

The car park at Santa Barbara's sheriff's department had been transformed into a broadcast centre.

There were reporters of every hue. The hard news journalists, the showbiz team, the crime correspondents and the legal pundits currently crowding the networks of American television.

TV crews in Las Vegas
The full glare of the media has again turned to Michael Jackson

There is plenty of airtime to fill and the Michael Jackson story is doing the job nicely.

The man himself finally turned up 24 hours after the police announced they had issued a warrant for his arrest.

You sensed his arrival was imminent by looking up to the skies. I counted seven helicopters belonging to TV companies circling the sheriff's department, filming his arrival.

He had come into Santa Barbara airport on a Lear jet. He handed himself over to the police and was driven to the main county jail.

There we got our first proper sighting of the pop star since news of the child abuse allegations broke.


His hands behind his back - handcuffed. It was an image that immediately gave a sense of the seriousness of the situation.

Amid the clamour for information on Jackson, there was a serious criminal investigation going on.

A sombre, conservative Michael Jackson had arrived at the county jail. But the Michael Jackson that left was the performer

In the stark county jail building Michael Jackson was what the police termed "processed". It took 40 minutes.

He had the allegations of child abuse put to him. He was photographed, fingerprinted and surrendered his passport. He was then released on bail.

A sombre, conservative Michael Jackson had arrived at the county jail. But the Michael Jackson that left was the performer.

Departing, he gestured to the crowd of loyal supporters who had gathered, smiling and waving.

There was no attempt to hide or shy away. This was a man willing to publicly fight to prove his innocence.

Harsh reality

After he had gone, the police handed the waiting media copies of the Michael Jackson mug shot.

There were some Jackson traits; the pale face and the make-up. But this was not a carefully lit beautifully photographed album cover.

Michael Jackson
Jackson's mug shot was a reminded of the seriousness of the situation

There was a harsh image of a man about to embark on a long legal process to clear his name.

Having been released on bail, Michael Jackson returned to the airport and flew back to Las Vegas where he had been filming a television special.

And just when you thought things couldn't get more bizarre, they did.

Arriving back in Vegas, Michael Jackson was driven around the city, stopping every few minutes to stick his hand out of the car window, acknowledging the fans who were shouting out in support from the roadside.

It was a strange end to an extraordinary few days.

'Pure thriller'

Michael Jackson's legal team now have several weeks to examine the details of the child abuse allegations.

The king of pop will make his first court appearance on 9 January.

There is little chance the intense media interest will fade away between now and then.

An eccentric pop star, a court room, serious criminal charges and global media interest. This will be pure thriller.

The BBC's Daniela Relph
"Michael Jackson - the mug shot. In custody in the county jail, facing allegations of child abuse"

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