Rock star 'a drunken lout' on flight, court told

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The Independent Online

The guitarist Peter Buck boasted "I am REM" to a British Airways captain after running through first class like a "drunken lout," Isleworth Crown Court was told yesterday.

Mr Buck, 45, covered two cabin crew in yoghurt, overturned a trolley and smashed crockery aboard the transatlantic flight. At one point, after drinking 15 glasses of wine, he mistook one of the catering trolleys for a compact disc player and tried to insert a CD, the court was told.

Having failed to bribe the flight attendants into giving him more alcohol, he tried to steal it from the galley, reeling up and down the aisle and toppling into fellow passengers.

When Captain Tom Payne handed him the equivalent of an airline yellow card, he ripped it up in his face and told him what he could do with his letter.

Mr Buck – a founding member of the band from Athens, Georgia, who have recorded classics such as "Losing My Religion" – "simply lost it," the jury was told. Eventually he fell asleep, "no doubt to the enormous relief of crew and passengers alike," said David Bate QC for the prosecution.

Mr Buck appeared in the dock, conservatively dressed in a pin-striped suit, white shirt and dark-blue tie. He denies one charge of being drunk on an aircraft, two counts of common assault on the cabin services manager, Mario Agius, and a stewardess, Holly Ward, and one of damaging crockery.

The guitarist was given VIP treatment as he boarded the 747 from Seattle to Heathrow with his tour manager, Robert Whittaker, last April. The crew noticed he had been drinking but was not drunk. But within 30 minutes of take-off, Mr Bate said, his speech was slurred, his eyes half-shut and his movements unsteady.

Three hours into the flight, the cabin crew began to ignore the guitarist's requests for more wine, so he went to the galley himself while Mr Whittaker took his shirt off and covered his face in ice cream.

Six hours into the flight, the Captain gave Mr Buck a yellow card after he refused to return to his seat and behave. He was "aggressive and threatening" and punched the wall of the aircraft with "considerable force", Mr Bate said.

Mr Buck then picked up a yoghurt and spoon and advanced toward Mr Agius. As the pair struggled, the pot exploded over them and Miss Ward.

Mr Buck was taken to the galley to be cleaned up. He flipped over a trolley and tried to slip a knife into his sleeve. When the captain threatened him with the police, he retorted: "I am REM and I can make up a story that I was assaulted."

During a trial likely to last eight days, the defence is expected to argue that Mr Buck's behaviour amounted to that of a "non-insane automaton" brought on by a combination of drink and medical drugs.

The musician told police upon his arrival at Heathrow: "I have never done anything like this before. I'm just appalled and shocked at my behaviour and apologetic to the people who had to deal with me. There is no excuse for behaviour like that."