Butterfly On A Wheel ZANI The Imprisonment of Richards & Jagger

Written by Simon Wells
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This is an extract from Simon Wells’ new book on the historic arrest and imprisonment of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger in 1967. “Butterfly On A Wheel” charts the extraordinary timeline of events that ultimately led to two of the Rolling Stones finding themselves behind bars. This act would spark a chain of events that would lead to public outrage, questions in the House of Commons, and the editor of The Times newspaper likening Mick Jagger to a ‘butterfly on a wheel’.

The Times controversial article has become one of the most significant editorials ever published, while the court hearings that prompted the quotation has become one of the most celebrated cases of the 20th century. The trial pitched Keith Richards and Mick Jagger against the full weight of the British establishment. And while both sides had their supporters, the verdict put two of Britain’s most popular entertainers behind bars.

This story has everything; sex, drugs, rock and roll and a huge slice of British social history. At its core are four peps pills, a Sunday tabloid, two celebrated rock stars and a court case that changed popular culture for ever. Furthermore, it chronicles a major turning point in British society; a watershed where attitudes to drugs prompted a seismic change in popular opinion.


At 2 p.m., the court reconvened to tie up Richards’ trial and to deliver sentencing on all three accused. After a short period of deliberation, Judge Block offered up his summation. As he’d done with Jagger, Block advised the jury to ignore any prejudice that they might have concerning the musician’s fashion sense, or indeed, the defendant’s outspoken reference to “petty morals”. Stating the obvious, Block concurred on Richards’ celebrity and also the enormous amount of publicity that the trial had generated. In an effort to appear impartial, he urged the jury to put out of its mind everything that they had read or heard in press reports concerning the other two cases (in itself, largely impossible).

Referring to the words of Dick Taverne MP who’d queried the massive pre-trial publicity on the case, Block attempted to charm the jurors, many of them cut from the same stock as his rural connections.

“That gentleman,” said Block of Taverne, “did not know the quality of a Sussex jury such as you are here now.” This patronising gesture delivered, Block then dealt with the nub of the prosecution’s argument. “The issue you have to try is a comparatively simple one,” he said. “You have to be satisfied that cannabis resin was being smoked in the house when the police went there. And you have to be satisfied that Richards knew of it.”

At 2:25 p.m., the members of the jury made their way to the small anteroom on the left of the court to make their decision. Just over an hour later, they informed the bench that they’d come to a decision. They were then ushered back in to formally read out the verdict.

On the count of allowing his house to be used for the smoking of cannabis resin, Keith Richards was found guilty.

With cries of disbelief audible from the gallery, a short recess was taken while the three lay magistrates determined sentence commensurate with the crimes. Crucially, their decision would be steered by Judge Block.

Their fate about to be read out, Jagger and Fraser were brought up from the cells to join Richards in the dock. The sight of Mick, Keith and Robert Fraser provoked a variety of emotions for Faithfull. “I will never forget those court appearances,” she recalled to the BBC in 2004. “Having to watch them in court and realising the danger they were in, it was terrible. I will never forget how beautifully they dressed. It was absolutely wonderful the way they used that court case for their clothes.”

Permitted a final plea to the bench before sentencing, Havers reiterated that variants of the drugs found on Jagger were freely prescribed in the UK. With over 150 million tablets prescribed, Havers said that they couldn’t really be classified as dangerous in any way. This, he said, was backed up by Jagger’s physician. Furthermore, Jagger had endured three days of misery and “shockingly adverse publicity”. Referring to photographs showing him in handcuffs, Havers queried whether someone not possessed of Jagger’s celebrity would be treated in this punitive fashion. With overseas work paramount for such an internationally famous musician, Havers called for a measure of compassion to be shown.

mick jagger keith richards marianne faithfull simon wells the rolling stones matteo sedazzari zani 2.jTurning his attention to Richards, Havers said that there was no evidence to suggest that “wholesale cannabis smoking” was occurring at Redlands. Additionally, Havers pointed out that the Act employed to convict Richards was intended for the prosecution of organised drug taking establishments operating solely for profit, something that evidently wasn’t occurring at Redlands. Finally, Havers offered his own character summation. “He is a likable young man, who goes his own way… This young man of 23 has got to the age where all the temptations and emergencies thrust upon him by all the extraordinary lifestyle he has led over the past four years are so much greater than those the ordinary boy faces.”

With that Havers rested his mitigation arguments, leaving the final act of the drama to be enacted by those on the bench. Judge Block was no doubt wary of the ramifications that could result from what had occurred over the last few days and, with the global spotlight allowing legal observers to eavesdrop on events, he knew that any slip would be seized upon by critics. Nonetheless, the law permitted the bench, under his advisement, to legitimately impose lengthy prison sentences. If, indeed, Block chose to employ the full weight of the law, Fraser could be imprisoned for seven years, Jagger for two years and Richards for a substantial 10 years.

While the jury in Richards’ case had taken their time in reaching a verdict, it took only a few minutes of deliberation for Block and his colleagues to arrive at the sentences for the three defendants. With the sorry triumvirate of Jagger, Richards and Fraser standing as one in the dock, their charges were read out again before sentencing could take place. As protocol dictated, it was be delivered by the man who’d assumed the mantle of the establishment. Standing before him were characters with whom he felt little kinship, and whose reputation he’d attempted to trample underfoot. At the age of 61, and representing a generation that felt betrayed by the brazen, lawless antics of figures like The Rolling Stones, Judge Block could now roll out a judgement that was commensurate with the resentment felt against them from his quarter.

The time now was just past 3:45 p.m. A hush descended on the courtroom, lawyers on both sides of the legal fence resting their enormous library of paperwork and looking up at the bench. Outside, over 600 fans and curious onlookers had gathered to await the verdict. There was an ominous quiet in the room as Judge Block read out the first of the sentences.

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“Keith Richards, the offence for which you have very properly been convicted carries a maximum sentence, imposed by Parliament, of up to ten years… That is a view of the seriousness of the offence… You will go to jail for one year. You will also pay £500 towards the cost of the prosecution. Go down.”

There were immediate cries of ‘No! No!’ and gasps of shock from fans in the public gallery. A flurry of murmuring broke out between reporters and other interested parties. Richards, it was observed, did nothing. He simply stared blankly at the bench. Judge Block called for silence.

“Robert Hugh Fraser, you have pleaded guilty to possessing a highly dangerous and harmful drug. You will go to prison for six months. You will also pay £200 towards the costs of the prosecution. Go down.”

On hearing this, Fraser noisily expended a large amount of air from his cheeks, and then clicked the heels of his black patent shoes together. With his celebrity restricted to London’s art world, there were no cries or screams from the gallery.

With two of the Redlands Three sentenced to jail terms, any immediate hopes for Jagger’s freedom appeared slim. While Keith’s sentencing appeared grossly severe, the most pertinent question on everyone’s lips was whether his fellow Stone would meet a similar fate, his greater popularity causing a pregnant hush to fall as Judge Block prepared to read out the sentence.

 “Michael Phillip Jagger,” he began ominously. “You have been found guilty of possessing a potentially dangerous and harmful drug. You will go to prison for three months. You will pay £200 towards the costs of the prosecution. Go down.”

/mick jagger keith richards marianne faithfull simon wells the rolling stones matteo sedazzari zani 4.As the words left Judge Block’s mouth, Jagger put his hand to his face and began to sway. With warders signalling that the trio should walk down to the cells, Richards momentarily clasped the wooden rail in front of him and glared over at the bench. During their descent, the public gallery erupted in a cacophony of screams, shouts and expressions of outrage. Jagger was evidently the most broken of the three and as he was taken away by a warder, he glanced up towards the gallery at a grieving Marianne Faithfull. In the few seconds allotted, the pair exchanged a sullen glance, and even from her remote vantage point she could see that he was crying. He turned and looked down the 12 stone steps leading to the cells, put his hands up to his face and staggered forward.

“I just went dead,” Jagger would later recall. “It was just like a James Cagney film, except everything went black.”

The Daily Telegraph, not then known for expending emotional hyperbole on pop stars, was fairly poetic in its coverage of the moment Jagger was convicted.

“Jagger almost broke down and put his head in his hands as he was sentenced,” wrote their correspondent. “He stumbled out of the dock almost in tears.”

The public gallery was in chaos. Two young girls clung to each other, weeping. Looking down at the broken figure of Jagger being led to the cells, one of them cried out, “They’re only jailing him because he has long hair.”

© - Words Simon Wells

Read 5629 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:29
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Simon Wells

Simon Wells

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