Former child actor Mark Lester has refuted renewed claims of sexual abuse made against the late Michael Jackson and insisted that children and families visiting Jackson’s Neverland Ranch were the ones taking advantage.
Speaking on RTE's The Late Late Show, the actor/osteopath said that he was present in Neverland when children, including his own daughters, visited and said he did not witness any inappropriate behaviour on Jackson’s part.
Asked by host Ryan Tubridy about Jackson allegedly sharing a bed with children, he said, "Well, yeah… it’s not the sort of thing I would do for sure, but I never felt anything untoward. My kids went to Neverland. My girls, when they were five and seven, I took to Neverland.
“There was never anything inappropriate that ever happened. If anything had happened they would have told me straight away. There was nothing that I picked up on of anything.”
The English actor, who played the title role in the 1968 film ‘Oliver!’, said that he maintained a friendship with the ‘King of Pop’ despite the allegations of sexual abuse. Jackson suffered immensely from the allegations, he said, adding that it was the children he invited to Neverland who were taking advantage of the star.
Mr Lester added that he "never believed it for a moment".
“I was at Neverland when those kids were there and I saw what was going on. In 2003 or 2004, Michael had basically brought a kid that he had visited in hospital as a cancer victim and this was in hospital and I think, off the cuff, he had said 'when you get better why not come and see me in Neverland?', so obviously he did.
“What was supposed to be a short visit turned into the kid coming and then the rest of the family coming in and then they stayed for like three months.
"They were taking advantage of Michael completely because Michael wasn’t there most of the time. He would be off doing business or recording or doing other things so he was hardly ever there. Maybe he was there for about a week of the three months they were there.”
Mr Lester said that Jackson was "deeply hurt and troubled" by the allegations in 2005, and added, "he chose then rightly to fight these allegations in court, whereas before he tried to cover it all up with money because he thought that was the best way and dealing with it that way.
"He did the right thing by fighting it,” he said.
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Mr Lester’s defence of the star comes in the wake of controversy over a Channel 4 documentary which screened at the Sundance Film Festival last month.
‘Leaving Neverland’ follows two of Jackson’s child complainants, James Safechuck and Dan Reed and their families as they discuss the alleged sexual abuse they suffered and the psychological affect it had on their lives.
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Jackson, who died in 2009, settled his case with Safechuck out of court in 1993 and no criminal charges were brought against him. In 2005 Mr Reed’s case, involving multiple alleged accounts of child molestation, child intoxication and conspiring to commit child extortion and abduction ended with a jury finding Jackson not guilty.
In response to the two-part documentary the Jackson estate denied the allegations and said that they would not have been made if the pop star was alive to defend himself.
“We can’t just stand by while this public lynching goes on and the vulture tweeters and others who never met Michael go after him,” they said.
“Michael is not here to defend himself, otherwise these allegations would not have been made.”
You can watch the full interview on the RTE Player.