LATEST: Michael Jackson arrived at court today (16AUG04) with his family in tow - on a double-decker tour bus.

Wearing a white suit with a mustard yellow armband, the BAD singer entered the court with parents KATHERINE and JOSEPH, and siblings JERMAINE, Janet, JACKIE and LaToya, also dressed in white. Jackson flashed a peace sign to the crowd of approximately 100 fans assembled in Santa Maria, California, before entering the building.

Dozens of police and a small group of people demonstrating in support of sexual abuse victims were also at the court.

Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded not guilty and is free on $3 million (GBP1.6 million) bail.

The focus of the hearing is Santa Barbara County District Attorney TOM SNEDDON's actions in the weeks before the charges were filed. The defence seeks to show that the prosecutor violated attorney-client privilege between Jackson and his former attorney, MARK GERAGOS, when he conducted personal surveillance of a private investigator's office.

The investigator, BRADLEY MILLER, was not in his Beverly Hills office when Sneddon went there and photographed the building and its roster of occupants.

Santa Barbara County sheriff's officials already have testified that they used a sledgehammer to break into Miller's office and seize videotapes and files relating to the Jackson case. They maintain that they did not know Miller was employed by Geragos.

The conspiracy count has become a centrepiece of the prosecution case with allegations that the 12-year-old accuser and his family were coerced into making a videotape praising the singer's character.

A ruling that the tape and other items from Miller's office must be suppressed because they were wrongfully seized would seriously undermine the prosecution's case.

16/08/2004 21:07