Sgt. Pilcher: The Narc Who Arrested Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Keith Richards and More
Beatle John Lennon and his Japanese girlfriend Yoko Ono leaving Marylebone Magistrates Court after they appeared to answer charges of drug possession and police obstruction, 19th October 1968. (Photo by Leonard Burt/Central Press/Getty Images)
In the mid- and late '60s, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and other British rock musicians were systematically hunted by one narcotics cop. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon, George Harrison -- all saw high-profile busts on very flimsy grounds, thanks to Norman Pilcher, a man who pursued rock gods with gusto. In his quest to take down the famous, Pilcher attained his own kind of fame, or infamy.
Narcs don’t often earn a place in pop history. They’re often relegated to the dust bins of memory and left to fade away while the stars they pursued burn bright long after they’ve passed away or passed their prime. Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher wasn’t just any narc, he was a fame obsessed member of London’s Drug Squad who stopped at nothing to put some of the biggest rock stars in the slammer for minor drug offenses.
When Pilcher joined the Drug Squad in the mid ‘60s he immediately targeted artists like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. He was responsible for the arrests of everyone from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to John Lennon and George Harrison. He planted hash, said what he had to in court, and eventually wormed his way into pop culture history. This notorious officer has found a place in songs by The Beatles, and even a track by weirdo rockers Primus.
Pilcher’s First Big Arrest Was Folk Singer Donovan
Before going after The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Pilcher’s first move was to arrest the folk singer Donovan. Everything wasn’t “Mellow Yellow” for Donovan on June 11, 1966 when a shaken young woman showed up at his apartment door. It was clear something was wrong, but the singer didn’t think he was being targeted by the police so he opened his door and in came the bobbies. Donovan explained:
…and they smash the place up. I’m jumping naked on the back of policemen’s necks, they’re smashing up beautiful things in the room, it’s terrible. They’ve been down the pub of course, and we were roughed up.
Following the destruction of Donovan’s room the police made their way down to the first floor apartment and remixed their first smash and grab. Supposedly Pilcher found two ounces “of Lebanese” in each apartment, but Donovan isn’t sure how that was possible because at the time he was smoking everything he had. He said:
You know, we couldn’t even find that stuff to buy in London. The little bit of hash we did have, we’d already smoked.
John Lennon Poked The Bear With 'I Am The Walrus'
John Lennon was the kind of writer who borrowed liberally from his life, often painting derisive portraits of the people he knew in his songs. Sgt. Pilcher earned his place as "Semolina Pilchard" in “I Am the Walrus” thanks to what Lennon felt was a need to be famous for the wrong reasons. He described Pilcher as a “head-hunting cop” who “went ‘round and [busted] every pop star he could get his hands on, and he got famous. Some of the pop stars had dope in their house and some of them didn’t.”
In 1968, after the release of “I Am The Walrus” Pilcher went after Lennon. At the time Lennon and Yoko Ono were renting a flat at 34 Montague Square from fellow Beatle George Harrison that was last held by Jimi Hendrix. It’s not wrong to assume that someone at some point did some kind of drug in this residence.
Someone at the Daily Mirror reportedly tipped Lennon off that Pilcher was moving in on him, so the singer had his home diligently scrubbed to make sure there was no residue of the rock n roll life. That didn’t stop Pilcher from bringing in seven officers and two sniffer dogs named Yogi and Boo-Boo to search the singer’s home.
According to Pilcher’s official report, “cannabis resin was found secreted in a leather binocular case and a suitcase. Both of these quantities were found by the dogs.” Lennon was fined £150 for possession but the case followed him for the rest of his life.
Brian Jones Knew He Was Going To Be Arrested Long Before Pilcher Showed Up
In the lore of Sgt. Pilcher, the officer had a list of rock stars to arrest that he moved down in strict order. At some point local journalists got a look at this list and were able to tip off the stars, but that didn’t stop Pilcher and his goons from making their moves. Rolling Stones multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones was one of those unlucky stars. After returning from the Cannes Film Festival, Brian Jones was contacted by journalists who wanted to know if he’d been busted yet.
According to the callers he was next on Pilcher’s list and the officer was getting ready to move on Jones. By this time Jones knew the score so he cleaned his entire flat. When Pilcher made his move the arresting officers went straight to Jones’ bed and out popped a “purple Moroccan-looking wallet with this iffy-looking grass in it.” It had, of course, been planted.
Pilcher claimed that he also found cocaine in the flat, and when he brought it up to Jones he told the Rolling Stone maestro, “Well I’m not going to charge you with this, am I? For one thousandth of a gram?” It was as if Pilcher was just playing with the stars that he arrested.
Mick And Keith Were Under Pilcher's Thumb In 1967
On February 12th, 1967 Mick and Keith, the hard partying duo behind the Rolling Stones were allegedly set up by the British newspaper The News Of The World. At the time of the arrest Jagger was in litigation against the paper for claiming that he was doing drugs at a party thrown by the Moody Blues. His slander claim pushed him to the top of Pilcher’s list of potential arrests, which led to Jagger and Richards being arrested at another party following a police raid.
Jagger was arrested after police supposedly found four tablets of amphetamines while Richards was busted on account of “allowing his house to be used for the purpose of smoking cannabis.” They were both released on £200 bail, and according to Richards the arrest made them realize that they were no longer living in the swinging heyday of anything goes London. He wrote:
When we got busted at Redlands, it made us realize that this was a whole different ball game and that was when the fun had stopped. Up until then, it had been as though London existed in a beautiful space where you could do anything you wanted. And then the hammer came down and it was back to reality.
Mick 'n Keef Go To Jail, And The Who Record In Protest
Though released on bail, Mick and Keith still had to go to trial for the Redlands bust. In June, they were convicted and sentenced to jail time -- Jagger got three months, and Richards got a year and a half. Imagine that alternate reality, where Keith Richards is jailed in late 1967 and not released until early 1969, missing the recording of the album we know as Beggars Banquet entirely.
As it happened, public outcry and a famous editorial in the Times of London caused the authorities to rethink their stance. Mick was released after three nights in prison, and Keith did just one night in the can.
In protest of the sentences (that Mick and Keith avoided serving), The Who announced their intention to record and release Rolling Stones songs "to keep their work before the public until they are again free to record themselves." The first product of this effort was a 45 of two Jagger/Richard compositions, "The Last Time" and "Under My Thumb."
He Raided George Harrison’s Flat On Paul McCartney’s Wedding Day
For some reason Pilcher was sweet on George Harrison. Maybe even he was reverent of The Beatles, or maybe he was just a big fan of the “quiet one.” Whatever the case, when Pilcher and the Drug Squad raided Harrison’s flat he did so on a day when Harrison wasn’t even there - the day of Paul McCartney’s wedding to Linda Eastman. Harrison said that even though he wasn’t at the raid that it gave him visa issues for the rest of his life:
They chose Paul's wedding day to come and do a raid on me, and to this day I'm still having difficulty with my visa to America because of this fella.
He came out to my house with about eight other policemen, a policewoman and a police dog, who happened to be called Yogi – because, I suppose, of the Beatle connection with Maharishi. They thought they'd have a bit of fun.
Supposedly the Squad found a large piece of hash in one of Harrison’s shoes, but he didn’t think that was possible. You see, Harrison was quite tidy and he didn’t leave hash in his shoes. He said:
I’m a tidy man. I keep my socks in the sock drawer and stash in the stash box. It's not mine.
Pilcher Loved The Press That The Arrests Brought Him
With his Drug Squad in tow, Pilcher never went after anyone with a status lower than Donovan. It’s obvious that he was arresting high profile stars because of the fame it brought him. He denied telling the press about upcoming arrests, but if that’s true then how were journalists able to tip off members of the Stones and The Beatles? Pilcher claimed that one of the star’s neighbors must have told them that he was on the way. At the time the press reported:
The fact that police officers were attempting to effect an entry into the residence of Lennon and Cox [Ono] is of immense news value to the press and of likewise publicity value to Lennon himself. The police officers involved have been questioned and strongly deny being responsible for any leakage of information.
The truth, it seems, is somewhere in between.
Pilcher Was Sent To Jail After His Moment In The Sun
By the early ‘70s the shine was off of Pilcher. Many of the stars he harassed had either passed or they moved out of his jurisdiction. He was still working the drug beat, but without the glamor of busting rock stars he started getting into trouble. While testifying in the case of drug smuggler Basil Sands, Pilcher claimed that Sands was innocent and that he worked for the police. This was absolutely untrue, and in 1973 Pilcher was sentenced to four years in prison for perjury with Justice Melford Stevenson closing the trial by telling the detective: “You poisoned the wells of criminal justice and set about it deliberately.”
Tags: Brian Jones | Donovan | Drugs | George Harrison | John Lennon | Keith Richards | Mick Jagger | Norman Pilcher | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The Rolling Stones | Yoko Ono
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