Sgt. Pilcher: The Narc Who Arrested Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Keith Richards and More

By | August 13, 2019

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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

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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.