'I'm looking forward to getting back to real life'

“Sky Nooooos, Sky Nooooos, report the truth, Sky Nooooos.”

It was our daily greeting from BJ Hickman, the biggest Michael Jackson fan in Santa Maria – in every sense of the word.

we’re not broadcast in America, he’s never seen Sky News, but after
five months, this 19-year-old knew all the reporters here by name and

Like many of the fans, he listened intently to our
broadcasts through the two security fences separating the media inside
the court precincts from the rest of the world. But as annoying as his
shouting has been, I’ve escaped lightly. One American TV correspondent
– perceived to be anti-Jackson – took out a restraining order against
BJ and had to have a security guard.

More than 2,200 members of
the world’s media from 34 countries have been crammed into 1,000sq ft
of space in the court car park – each TV company had a 3ft wide strip
to broadcast from. Some radio teams elected to work from a portable
building at the back of the court that overlooked the portable toilets
scrawled with pro and anti- Jackson graffiti we all shared.

our US TV neighbours who could sit all day for one hit in the evening,
Sky News was taking a live report most hours that the court was in
session. Our first broadcast of the day was usually before court
started (4pm in the UK, 8am here). There were so many differences
between covering this case and one in the UK.

The media is
allowed to report what happens in the absence of the jury and a gag
order didn’t stop representatives of Jackson holding daily press

One witness has written a book about the singer that
was published while the jury were out. One juror already has a book
deal, it’s been reported.

But by far the biggest difference was the existence of a media pool co-ordinator.

a walkie-talkie hanging from his belt and a hiking hat on his head,
Peter Shaplin kept us all informed of the latest developments. A
journalist himself, he carved a niche for his role during the Scott
Peterson trial, a grizzly double murder case that was last year’s
highest profile trial in America.

Peter acted as the first point
of contact between the reporters and the court, organised the legal
analysts and liaised with the sheriff’s deputies.

Everything he
learnt was relayed to the rest of us across pool radios. It minimised
confusion, as well as pressure and cost on the court.

Billed as
the trial of the century, this case hasn’t delivered much of what was
promised, however. We never saw Liz Taylor tottering in, or Jackson
himself in the witness stand. But it never failed to surprise. The
sight of a 46-year-old man being escorted into court in pyjamas and
full makeup is something that will always live with me.

I’ve been
in Santa Maria since January, with a couple of breaks home to regain my
sanity. But despite the sunshine I am looking forward to getting back
to real life in London.

As for BJ Hickman, he arrived in Santa
Maria the same day as I did. This trial has become his life. He doesn’t
know what he is going to do now it is over.

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