Rock star Peter Buck was today cleared of "ransacking" a first class cabin during a drunken airborne rampage.
The 45–year old REM guitarist, who was accused of attacking cabin staff during hours of allegedly "loutish behaviour", blamed a pre–takeoff sleeping pill for transforming him into a mindless "automaton".
The millionaire father–of–two, described by his wife, fellow celebrities and other friends as the "politest, gentlest" person imaginable, said the tablet turned most of the 10–hour Seattle to Heathrow flight last April into a mental blank.
A jury at Isleworth Crown Court in west London found him not guilty of being drunk on a plane, assaulting an air stewardess and a cabin services director and of causing criminal damage to British Airways' property.
Buck sighed audibly and wiped his brow as the jury, which had deliberated for five–and–a–half hours, returned its verdicts.
The musician, who had been on his way to play at the South Africa Freedom Day concert in Trafalgar Square, said his first memory of Britain was when he came to in police custody, the court heard.
Bright overhead lights initially convinced him he was recovering from a heart attack in a "weird Disneyland hospital".
He reaction was shock and disbelief when he was told where he was, and why.
Buck first went on trial last November. But the case was halted after two days following legal argument over identification issues.
On that occasion he was accused of behaving like a "paralytic Mr Hyde".
This time, David Bate QC, prosecuting, told the jury that the guitarist, who was travelling with tour manager Robert Whittaker and two other members of his entourage, acted like a "drunken lout" after downing the equivalent of two bottles of red wine in three hours.
One prosecution witness after another took the stand to allege a litany of misdemeanours and four–letter outbursts 35,000ft above the Atlantic.
They included repeatedly stumbling along the aisles, bumping into seats and sometimes landing on passengers.
On several occasions, it was claimed, Buck attempted to grab bottles of wine from the galley – and even tried bribing the crew for more alcohol after being banned from drinking for the remainder of the flight.
Later, the court was told, he got stuck between two seats, announced he wanted to "go home" and reached for an exit door before a stewardess pulled him away.
When Captain Tom Payne presented him with a "yellow card" warning him to behave or face arrest, he tore it up.
Witnesses also described Buck attempting to play a CD on a hostess trolley and trying to sit next to a woman passenger who he insisted was his wife.
As cabin services director Mario Agius and stewardess Holly Ward rushed to her aid, he allegedly "splattered" them with yoghurt before grabbing the first by his tie and then bruising his colleague's arm when she tried to intervene.
Minutes later, it was claimed, after upending another trolley and sending crockery, cutlery and food worth £174 cascading across the floor, he tried to slip a butter knife up his sleeve while helping clear up the mess.
Then, when warned again to behave, he allegedly declared: "I am REM and I can make up a story that I was assaulted."
Finally, however, he calmed down and fell asleep.
But by then, said "scared to death" stewardess Nara Incecchi, the first class cabin looked like it has been "ransacked".
For his part, the father–of–two denied being drunk. He said the combination of a 10mg Ambien sleeping pill – provided by a theatre director friend – and the three to four glasses of wine he recalled having, turned him into a "non–insane automaton", unaware of his actions and unable to control them.
It "divorced" behaviour from brain and left him incapable of "criminal intent".
Denying prosecution claims that he had "invented" taking the medication to avoid conviction, the musician insisted he suffered a mental blackout that wiped out most of his memory of the flight.
Consciousness returned only after he had been arrested and taken to a police station.
"I was horrified ... it was like something out of a novel," he told the jury.
When he learned what he was supposed to have done, he was overcome with shame.
"To me it was just incomprehensible ... I have never been in trouble before ... I will go miles to avoid confrontation ... I really don't like it".
The musician's defence team, headed by Richard Ferguson QC and Trevor Burke QC, also argued that he was the victim of mistaken identity after swapping seats with his tour manager during the flight.
The prosecution had said that at one stage during the flight Mr Whittaker drunkenly tore off his shirt and smeared himself with ice–cream.
But he, too, insisted he had taken half a sleeping tablet and could recall little of the trip.
After days of competing medical evidence, arguing the likelihood or otherwise of Buck being transformed into an automaton by the pill and the wine, his wife, fellow band members Michael Stipe and Mike Mills, U2 lead singer Bono and other friends gave evidence on his behalf.
Without exception they insisted they had never seen the guitarist drunk, and variously spoke of a "Southern gentleman", who was "famously peaceful", a "good father and family man", unfailingly "shy, polite, gentle, honest," and always considerate to others.
Afterwards a British Airways spokesman said: "We accept the court's decision. We will continue to treat allegations of assault on our staff and drunkenness on aircraft extremely seriously and support any prosecutions.
Outside court Buck's solicitor gave a statement on his behalf standing with the REM guitarist as well as the lead singer Michael Stipe, bassist Michael Mills and Buck's wife Stephanie.
Solicitor Neill Blundell told waiting reporters: "Peter Buck has asked me to make a statement on his behalf: 'I am grateful to the court, the jury and my lawyers to my family, friends and supporters who have stood by me throughout this experience.
"'I am obviously relieved to be finished here and I look forward to be returning my attention to my family, my band and music'."
Buck, who was holding hands with his wife, refused to make any other comment except when he was asked if he would be flying home with British Airways to which he replied "yes".Reuse content