Today George Harrison and his wife Pattie dropped by a party at Keith Richards’ new country home, an estate called Redlands. Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were also there, as well as several other denizens of the Swinging London scene. The Harrisons didn’t stay long; according to John McMillian’s book Beatles vs. Stones,

Since they had not taken LSD that day, they might have found it hard to relate to the others. They stayed for only about an hour or two before driving off together in George’s customized Mini Cooper. Shortly after they’d left, the drug squad arrived.

This, then, is the famous Stones bust of which so many tales are told, some of them involving Marianne Faithfull and a Mars Bar. 50 years later it is hard to separate fact from fiction (though the Mars Bar was almost certainly fiction). Did the police actually wait outside the house for George and Pattie to leave before starting the raid? McMillian again:

According to Richards, the police took a malicious, voyeuristic detail [sic] in busting the Stones, but at that point they dared not arrest a Beatle. Harrison agreed: “There was sort of a social pecking order…in the pop world,” he said. First, they “busted Donovan [in mid-1966]…then they busted the Rolling Stones, and then [in 1969] they worked their way up and they busted John and Yoko and me.

It seems likely that this chain of events was set off by Mick’s threatening to sue the News of the World for libel after it printed a story called “Pop Stars and Drugs: Facts That Will Shock You.” In this story a bunch of quotes from Brian Jones — who was quite open about his drug use, even inviting reporters up to his flat to smoke hash — were mistakenly attributed to Mick. “Jagger was livid,” says McMillian, “and rightly so. When the News of the World reporters collected their quotes, he had been on vacation in the Italian Riviera. Besides, Mick had always been cautious about his drug use, which anyhow was very moderate compared to Keith’s or Brian’s.”

So now, in order to avoid a lawsuit, the News of the World had to prove that Mick Jagger took drugs. Which he did, of course, just not as much as some people. In fact, the day of the bust he had tried acid for the first time. “Poor Mick….” said Marianne Faithfull. “The first day he ever dares take an LSD trip, eighteen policemen come pouring in through the door.”

It seems pretty clear that the bust was set up by the News, who tipped off the police in return for exclusive coverage. According to Simon Wells, author of Butterfly on a Wheel: The Great Rolling Stones Drugs Bust, they initially approached Scotland Yard’s drug squad and were rebuffed — the Yard was leery of turning Mick and Keith into martyrs. Instead the News ended up doing business with the local Chichester police.

At the trial, Keith was sentenced to a year in prison, Mick three months. After that they became something of a cause celebre, the subject of a heartfelt editorial in the London Times called “Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?” On appeal, Keith’s conviction was overturned and Mick’s sentence was suspended.

In the end, the bust worked to the Stones’ advantage, burnishing their outlaw image and adding a sexy, if false, bit of legend to their lore. Some people have all the luck.

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