It was the height of the Swinging Sixties and you could say I was quite infamous. From 1967 through to ’69, I arrested a series of celebrities on drug-possession charges, including Dusty Springfield, Brian Jones and George Harrison. I was 32, a detective sergeant heading up a drugs squad and always in the papers. They called me a zealot who was ‘harassing the music world’, and stars loved to hate me. People said I was ‘Semolina Pilchard’ in the Beatles’ song I Am the Walrus, and that I was the inspiration for the Monty Python character ‘Spiny Norman’.
But the media at the time got so many things wrong and now, at 85, I have written a book to set the record straight.
My most famous raid was arresting John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were living in Ringo Starr’s old flat in Montague Square, London, where Jimi Hendrix had been staying. I had several tip-offs that Lennon was using cannabis, but I took my time to get a warrant. Unbeknown to me they’d already been tipped off by the Daily Mirror a few weeks before.
That day, I took five coppers and a police dog with me (which was standard for a bust). It was lunchtime when we arrived and they were still in bed. I put on the special postman’s hat I wore for raids, knocked on the door and called out, ‘Parcel for Mr Lennon!’. Of course, they realised who I was and were reluctant to let us in at first, so it took a bit of banter and some persuasion at the door before they opened it (both were stark naked). We took the dog around and found some cannabis resin in an old binocular case.
We took them to Paddington Police Station to charge them – the press were already all over the place (a neighbour had rung them when they saw us at the flat). I certainly didn’t get Lennon to sign an album cover, like the papers said I did. The only thing he signed was the charge sheet and we left on good terms.
There was a bit of fallout though. Some clown in the House of Commons stood up and asked, ‘What right did the police have to do this?’, and, ‘Shouldn’t they have informed Lennon they were coming?’. So I had to do a report for the then Home Secretary Jim Callaghan, justifying what we’d done, which left me speechless.
We arrested eight celebrities in all. People accused me of doing it for publicity, when actually we had been instructed by the Home Office. They wanted to set an example by arresting famous people, but I think all it did was encourage young people to use more drugs. We weren’t deliberately targeting anyone, we arrested a long list of names, and famous people just happened to be among them.
Lennon pleaded guilty and was fined £150. One result of his arrest was that he couldn’t go to the States, but it was OK in the end. In fact, we got quite friendly. He used to send me postcards from abroad, saying things like, ‘I’m in Japan, you can’t bust me here, ha, ha!’. His lawyers even sent us a case of brandy and gave me two signed album covers.
Lennon was one of the nicest men I met, and he was the one who eventually changed my mind about everything. He had a life I envied in so many ways – all love and peace. He said, ‘If I want to smoke a joint that’s my choice, my body and nobody’s got a right to stop me.’ For that reason I turned my views. I sat down with my team and agreed there was no point running around 24 hours a day busting people over a joint. To make a difference we needed to go after the big boys, the dealers, and that’s what we did.
Being on the drug squad was a tough old game. Five years later, I was convicted of perjury and served four years in prison. If you ask me, I was set up by the system. But that’s a whole other story…
—As told to Lucy Dunn.