Leaving Neverland, shown on Channel 4 over two nights, has delivered many shocking revelations about Michael Jackson’s grooming and alleged sexual abuse of two young fans who idolised him, and were terribly betrayed.
But one of the most shocking elements of the documentary has been the fact that the singer was going about his business in plain sight.
Time and again we saw Jackson surrounded by grown-ups in the company of both of his accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck. He was seen hopping out of limos, or going into hotels or onto private planes closely followed by a pre-pubescent boy — generally dressed identically to him.
Michael Jackson and James Safechuck were undeniably close
Sometimes, he was holding hands with the child, at other times putting his arm around the boys’ shoulders. Both Robson and Safechuck were also brought out on stage by Jackson during his tours.
He could hardly have made his infatuation with them more public.
Safechuck met Jackson in 1987 when he was ten and was picked to appear with the singer in a Pepsi commercial. Jackson invited him along on the Bad tour with him the following year and they shared a hotel room while his parents slept down the hall. Safechuck says that he was being abused by the singer, and that it happened more than 100 times, often at Neverland.
Meanwhile, Australian dancer Wade Robson met Jackson in 1987 when he was five years old after he won a dance competition when the singer was touring Australia.
Jackson invited the youngster to join him on stage. Two years later, when the family were on holiday in America, they got in touch with Jackson and he invited them to spend time at Neverland.
Robson’s mother, father and sister went on a road trip to the Grand Canyon and at Jackson’s request Robson stayed in Neverland with Jackson, when, he says, the sexual abuse began. He was seven years old.
Wade Robson has accused Michael Jackson of sexual abuse when he stayed at Neverland at the age of seven
Yet the parents of these boys — who were rewarded with gifts of gold watches, cars, loans of money and even a home — did not see the alleged abuse.
As Safechuck’s mother Stephanie said: ‘For him to want to be our friend, we’re like, oh my God, how lucky are we? He flies you first class, he has a limo waiting at the airport, amazing! It’s a life of the rich and famous.’
Globally famous, Michael Jackson had no chance of coming or going unnoticed, of course.
But he made no effort to travel separately to ‘his boys’ — and Robson and Safechuck were not the only two.
As these pictures show, boys were taken around the world by Jackson, who was seen treating them to ‘anything you want’ shopping sprees in toy shops and theme parks.
Of course, some of those boys defend him still, and say nothing untoward ever happened.
Michael Jackson and Brett Barnes hung out together at Euro Disney in 1993. It was reported that he was Jackson’s cousin but they are not related
But still the association was so brazen that it played into the ‘Wacko Jacko’ narrative.
Parents were told, not least by the singer himself, that he was at heart just a 12-year-old boy who loved cartoons and other children.
If they were capable of believing this then they could accept their boys being asked to ‘sleep over’ with the star in presidential suites in the best hotels around the world, while they were placed in a room at the other end of the residence, and still maintain a belief that whatever was going on was entirely innocent. At least five pre-pubescent boys were chosen to join Jackson on tour over a nine-year period.
But what, you may ask, of all of the adults — including those at his record label — who didn’t trouble to ask what exactly was going on? So far, there is only silence from Sony, his record label.
You also wonder if we will ever hear from the lawyers, who Wade Robson and James Safechuck said last night ran them through pretend questioning on the subject of what went on in the sleepovers, in order to protect Jackson. Jackson himself, we should remember, reacted with hysteria to the suggestion of paedophilia, as did his fans. He insisted on his ‘complete innocence’ and called the allegations ‘incredible, terrible’.
Jordy Chandler was another young fan who looked and dressed like his hero Michael Jackson. His parents sued the singer for ‘repeatedly committing sexual battery’
Jackson was, though, surely inviting disaster by associating closely and repeatedly with young male fans. One of these was Brett Barnes, who was seen coming through Heathrow with the singer in 1992 and hanging out with him in Euro Disney in 1993.
It was reported that he was Jackson’s ‘cousin’ although they are not related.
A Jackson fan, he had contacted him by letter and started spending time at Neverland when he was nine.
Barnes admitted that they shared a bed but said that they took separate sides. ‘It’s this big bed . . . and I was on one side and he was on the other,’ he said. He added: ‘He kissed you like you kiss your mother. It’s not unusual for him to hug, kiss and nuzzle up to you and stuff.’
At around this time Jackson also met Jordy Chandler — another young fan who looked and dressed like him, but this time the association ended in disaster.
Chandler’s step-father ran a car rental agency and met Jacko after he broke down on a highway in LA in 1992. He got his wife to bring Jordy — a huge fan — to meet the star and they exchanged phone numbers. The family, including Jordan’s sister, were eventually invited to come and stay at Neverland.
Jackson struck up a friendship with actor Macaulay Culkin who has always maintained the singer’s innocence
In May 1993, Jackson took Jordy and his mother to Monaco for the World Music Awards and the two of them shared a room. June Chandler was given a diamond bracelet by the singer.
In September 1993 Chandler’s parents sued Jackson for ‘repeatedly committing sexual battery on their son’.
Jackson was traumatised. When the first complaints about him were made public, he proposed marriage to friend Lisa Marie Presley after a series of phone calls in which, she later said, he seemed ‘high, incoherent and delusional’.
After legal wrangling, he settled the case with Jordy out of court in 1994. A reported £11.4 million went into trust for Jordy, £1.1 million to each of his parents and £3.8 million to the lawyers. His legal team said that it was ‘in no way an admission of guilt’.
Jordy refused to cooperate with a police investigation, and it was dropped. The director of Leaving Neverland, Dan Reed, said: ‘Jordan’s not easily accessible. We did a bit of sleuthing to try and find him but decided to not push that any further as he appears to want to stay hidden, for now.’ You might assume that after the scandal Jackson would have dropped his habit of taking young male fans on tour with him, but you would be wrong.
One young fan Michael Jacobshagen says that he spent three weeks with Jackson on tour in 1997 and more time in 1998, mostly in his hotel room.
Jacobshagen, now 35, says that Jackson called him his ‘Rubba Rubba boy’ and would grind his body against him.
He says that the singer gave him a book containing pictures of naked young men and inscribed it to his ‘special friend’ and ‘rubba rubba friend’.
He believes that the singer was testing him and seeing how far he could go. Jacobshagen adds that Jackson bought his mother a Cartier watch.
Young fan Michael Jacobshagen says he spent three weeks in a hotel room with the pop star
Another association was struck up with Omer Bhatti, a Norweigian dance fan, who met Jackson at a hotel in Tunis while the singer was on the HIStory tour in 1996.
Jackson was so taken with the boy — who was 11 years old at the time — that Bhatti joined him for the rest of the tour, coming on stage with Jackson and travelling with him. The friendship grew so deep that Omer joined Jackson in Neverland full-time. In 1997, Omer’s mother Pia and father Riz were given jobs by Jackson, as nanny and driver respectively.
Omer started going by the name Michael Joseph Winter and was raised as ‘one of his family’ alongside son Prince, born in 1997, daughter Paris born in 1998, both to nurse Debbie Rowe, and son Blanket born in 2002 to a surrogate.
Rowe never lived at Neverland, but Omer did. Indeed, he was one of the Jackson associates who were at home in Neverland in 2003 when it was raided by police.
The raid was sparked after Jackson boasted in a Martin Bashir documentary that he regularly had sleepovers with children, including cancer sufferer Gavin Arvizo, a fan.
Jackson said: ‘It’s not sexual. We’re going to sleep. I tuck them in. It’s very charming.’
Police found a collection of pornographic material at the property which included books and videos. Jackson was arrested and charged with committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child under the age of 14.
Gavin Arzino regularly had sleepovers with Michael Jackson, as was revealed in Martin Bashir’s documentary
During Jackson’s trial, Arvizo and his younger brother testified that the singer showed them pornography and made them drink ‘Jesus juice’ — wine. Both said Jackson masturbated in front of them and molested Arvizo on multiple occasions.
In footage screened as part of Leaving Neverland, he said: ‘He showed me, he wanted to show me how to masturbate.
Then I said no and he said he would do it for me.’ (At the trial Brett Barnes, who toured with Jackson as a child, testified that the singer had ‘absolutely not’ molested him. Asked if Jackson had ever touched him in a sexual way, he said: ‘Never. I wouldn’t stand for it.’)
Jackson was found not guilty of all charges on June 13, 2005.
Omer Bhatti, a Norwegian dancer, lived at Neverland with Jackson
He then went into an extended period of travelling with his children, their nanny — and Omer Bhatti, now a teenager. Although Bhatti’s parents returned to Norway he went with Jackson to Bahrain and Ireland.
In a recent interview with a Norwegian magazine, Bhatti said: ‘Michael was in many ways very innocent. One cannot, of course, expect everyone else to have the same views on things, and he was too naive and was hurt by being too kind. For him, certain things were natural and completely innocent, something not necessarily everyone else would see in the same way.’
He was in the front row of the funeral with Jackson’s family and remains close to the children.
Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin, who struck up a friendship with Michael Jackson when he cast him in the video for Black Or White in 1991, also defended him.
He said during Jackson’s 2005 trial that allegations against the singer were ‘absolutely ridiculous’. He said that between the ages of nine and 14 he slept in Jackson’s bed a dozen or more times but said that nothing inappropriate happened.
In an interview this year he said: ‘At the end of the day, it’s almost easy to try and say it was like weird or whatever, but it wasn’t, because it made sense, we were friends.’
His daughter Paris this week has called the allegations ‘lies’, while his brother Marlon said there was ‘not one piece of evidence’.
But there’s no doubt that the sleepovers, the touring, the jewellery and the dozens of pictures of Jackson with the boys depict a deeply troubling obsession.