A British journalist said he found a significant discrepancy in HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” documentary, raising questions about the film’s credibility and its graphic molestation allegations against the late international entertainment icon, Michael Jackson.
Since its release a month ago, several tabloids in the United Kingdom have published a series of critiques based on the research of reporter Mike Smallcombe, who also authored a biography on the King of Pop. He says his most damning discovery focuses on a claim made by James Safechuck, who has repeatedly said that he was sexually abused by Jackson from 1988 to 1992, ending when he was 14 years old.
In what The New York Times described as “one of the most uncomfortable sequences in the film,” Safechuck recounted multiple locations on Jackson’s California Neverland Valley Ranch where he said inappropriate interactions took place.
“At the train station, there was a room upstairs, and we would have sex up there too,” Safechuck alleged.
However, Smallcombe obtained building permits last week that he says discredit Safechuck’s story.
“Construction on Neverland’s train station didn’t start until the latter part of 1993, and it didn’t open until the first part of 1994, when Safechuck was 16,” Smallcombe told The Mirror Online.
“So abuse in the train station wasn’t possible if the abuse stopped in 1992, as he claims in his testimony, as it didn’t even exist then.”
“Between February 1994 and December 1994, Jackson was living in Trump Tower in New York recording his HIStory album,” Smallcombe added.
“By the time Jackson was at Neverland and the train station was actually open, it was early 1995, three years after Safechuck said the abuse stopped,” he continued. “And by then Safechuck was 17, and on the cusp of adulthood.”
“Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed acknowledged that Safechuck’s timeline of events was flawed but continued to defend his accusations, tweeting: “Yeah there seems to be no doubt about the station date. The date they have wrong is the end of the abuse.”
Reed went on to state that “Safechuck was at Neverland both before and after the construction of the train station there,” suggesting sexual encounters might have continued into his postpubescent years. “Leaving Neverland” critics say Reed’s elaboration conflicts with a central theme of his documentary.
“A huge part of the movie’s narrative is that Jackson lost sexual interest in these boys when they reached the age of 14, supposedly because that is when puberty hit,” explained John Ziegler, a senior columnist for Mediaite.
On Monday, The Mirror reported that “the story has taken another turn as it’s emerged that two Jackson biographers both wrote about another train station on the grounds of the estate, which was there in 1990.”
Those accounts were dismissed by Smallcombe on Tuesday morning. He referenced “source notes” in one of the cited books which he claimed clarified that the author’s “description of what Neverland might have looked like to visitors in 1990 was in fact based on a 2003 sheriff’s department video.” Smallcombe said the other publication “did not say the train station was there” in 1990 and was penned by a ghostwriter collaborating with two bodyguards who “did not start working for Jackson until the mid-2000s.”
Safechuck, now 41, along with “Leaving Neverland’s” other accuser, Wade Robson, 36, defended Jackson’s honor when the singer was alive but filed lawsuits against his estate asking for millions of dollars after his death. The cases were dismissed and are currently under appeal, according to a lawyer who represents both Safechuck and Robson.
“Safechuck’s train station fiction is one of several lies in this film which shows that neither the director or HBO ever bothered to verify the claims made by these accusers,” said Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the Jackson estate, in a statement.
“I believe for the accusers, the director and HBO this has always been about the money and ratings,” Weitzman continued.
The Jackson estate filed a lawsuit against HBO earlier this year saying the cable network violated a non-disparagement agreement with the late pop star. According to the court filing, damages could exceed $100 million.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @JeffreyCawood.