Peer tells of threats ahead of Jackson trial appearance

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A DISCREDITED British hereditary peer has become the first witness in the Michael Jackson child molestation trial to break a gagging order after receiving threats warning him not to testify.

Lord Alexander Charles David Drogo Montagu, whose 11-year-old son Alex made two visits to Jackson’s Neverland ranch in the late 1990s, says he received a number of menacing telephone calls and that his house and car had been attacked.

"I’ve been told to leave the country and not come back until after the hearing," said Lord Montagu, the 13th Duke of Manchester. "I’ve had the front of my house vandalised and I’ve had the tyres of my car slashed."

The aristocrat, who has multiple convictions in Australia where he was born, and was once deported from Canada, said Jackson befriended his son at a memorial service for Princess Diana shortly after her death in 1997. "He called a lot," Lord Montagu said.

He is due to testify at the singer’s trial in Santa Maria, California, if the judge, Rodney Melville, rules next week that evidence about Jackson’s previous relationships with young boys can be heard.

"I’ve been told that my evidence is important," Lord Montagu told US news channel MSNBC in defiance of the blanket gagging order Mr Melville placed on everyone involved in the case. He said the district attorney’s office was aware he was talking to the media.

Prosecution experts, meanwhile, say that Lord Montagu’s testimony would back up claims that Jackson had a fondness for young boys.

Lord Montagu, 43, said he did not know who was behind the attacks and telephone threats, but said that he was frustrated by waiting to find out if he would be called and that he feared for his family’s safety.

"I have requested that if I have to testify, it is as soon as possible. I want this over and done with so I’m able to get on with my life," he said.

He refused to go into details of what his evidence would be if called to the stand to talk about his son, but said he knows of nothing improper that took place. "Alex was sworn to secrecy to Michael," he said. "I don’t know to any total degree what happened. I asked but he didn’t tell me. My son is very fond of Michael but he has his secrets."

A source for Jackson’s defence team said he was aware of Lord Montagu’s testimony, but was not worried by it.

Lord Montagu would not be the first member of the Montagu family to see the inside of an American courtroom. His father Angus, the four-times married 12th Duke of Manchester, who died in 2002, spent two and a half years in Virginia State Penitentiary from 1996 to 1998 for fraud after an audacious $50 million (27 million) attempt to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey team.

The 13th Duke was in the news in 1991 when he was told to leave Canada because he had 29 undeclared criminal convictions in his native Australia, including assault with a weapon and several fraud charges.

At the time he was reported to be living in a cheap hostel in Toronto and dating a stripper, whom he had hoped to marry to win Canadian citizenship.

He claimed to be a close friend to Diana, Princess of Wales, and said he was 52nd in line to the throne. Both claims have been dismissed by Burke’s Peerage.

Meanwhile, the jury in the Jackson trial yesterday heard how a vast array of pornographic material taken from the pop star’s room was investigated and analysed. But one expert acknowledged that labels on two fingerprints had been switched, as the defence attempted to discredit the evidence. Jackson, 46, denies abuse charges. The trial continues.