Channel 4 cleared over Michael Jackson doc

Jackson's former bodyguard drops libel action

LONDON -- Channel 4 and the Jackson family were celebrating Monday, after libel and fakery accusations brought against the broadcaster by a former bodyguard were dropped.

Allegations that the Channel 4/Studio Lambert documentary "The Jackson's Are Coming" included faked scenes have been dropped at the 11th hour, after the claimant Matt Fiddes dropped the allegations on the eve of trial proceedings.

The documentary, which was filmed before the death of Michael Jackson last year, followed Tito Jackson and his parents and family as they searched for a possible home in an English seaside town in Devon.

Fiddes, who said he was a former bodyguard of Michael and claimed to be a close friend of the star, was accused of leaking information about the family to the press against their wishes.

Fiddes claimed he was libeled by the program, which showed his deteriorating relationships with the family.

Channel 4's case was supported by the Jackson family, who had agreed to give evidence for the broadcaster when the case came to court.

"Fiddes tried to pretend that he was a close friend of my son Michael, but when I spoke to Michael about him, he could not remember who he was," said Michael and Tito's mother Katherine, in a statement.

"The whole family was deeply upset by interviews he gave shortly after Michael's death, which no friend would have done."

The stars' mother said that Fiddes had written to Tito threatening that if the family gave evidence in the case.

"We decided we were going to come and tell the truth about him anyway. You have to stand up to people like this," she added.

Stephen Lambert, head of Studio Lambert, and the program producer Jane Preston said that they were delighted that the false accusations had been withdrawn. "Our reputations have been vindicated," they said in a statement.

Channel 4 head Julian Bellamy said the broadcaster had been forced to fund a libel action which was "flawed from the outset," and criticized the legal system for libel for allowing it to go ahead under the CFA "no-win no fee" system, which meant Channel 4 could not recover its costs from Fiddes.

"Channel 4 is delighted that this unmeritorious claim has been discontinued," said Bellamy.

"This case illustrates the chilling effect that exorbitant legal costs in CFA-funded libel claims can have on broadcaster's freedom of expression."
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