In the morning of 18 October 1968, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were arrested by the Drugs Squad.
All of a sudden, there was this knock on the door and a woman’s voice outside, and I look around and there is a policeman standing in the window, waiting to be let it. We’d been in bed and our lower regions were uncovered. Yoko ran into the bathroom to get dressed with her head poking out, so they wouldn’t think she was hiding anything. Then I said, ‘Ring the lawyer, quick,’ but she went and rang Apple. I will never know why.
The couple were temporarily living at Ringo Starr’s flat at 34 Montagu Square, London. Following a tip-off from a newspaper journalist friend, they had thoroughly cleaned the flat to make sure it was free of drugs.
That thing was set up. The Daily Express was there before the cops came. In fact, Don Short had told us, ‘They’re coming to get you,’ three weeks before. So, believe me, I’d cleaned the house out, because Jimi Hendrix had lived there before in the apartment, and I’m not stupid. I went through the whole damn house.
Before the police arrived Lennon’s friend Pete Shotton called round. Shotton, whom had trained as a police officer, helped them check each room. Eventually, however, Ono demanded that Shotton leave the apartment, which he did, taking the vacuum cleaner bag with him.
The eight-strong police task force, led by the notorious anti-drugs zealot Sergeant Norman Pilcher, entered the premises at 11.30am. It comprised two plainclothes detective sergeants, two detective constables, a policewoman and two sniffer-dog handlers, initially without their dogs.
Lennon had attempted to delay them by insisting on reading their warrant through a window. He also instructed Ono to call their lawyer, but she contacted Apple instead. Peter Brown arranged for lawyers to attend the scene.
The squad discovered 219 grains of cannabis resin, and took Lennon and Ono to Paddington Green police station. There they were charged with possession and for obstructing the police in execution of a search warrant.
We were lying in bed, feeling very clean and drugless, because we’d heard three weeks before that they were coming to get us – and we’d have been silly to have had drugs in the house. All of a sudden a woman comes to the front door, and rings the bell and says, ‘I’ve got a message for you.’ We said, ‘Who is it? You’re not the postman.’ And she said, ‘No, it’s very personal,’ and suddenly this woman starts pushing the door. She [Yoko] thinks it’s the press or some fans, and we ran back in and hid. Neither of us was dressed, really; we just had vests on and our lower parts were showing.
We shut the door and I was saying, ‘What is it? What is it?’ I thought it was the Mafia or something. Then there was a big banging at the bedroom window, and a big super-policeman was there, growling and saying, ‘Let me in, let me in!’ And I said, ‘You’re not allowed in like this, are you?’ I was so frightened. I said, ‘Come round the front door. Just let me get dressed.’ And he said, ‘No, open the window, I’m going to fall off.’
There were some [police] at the front and some at the back. Yoko held the window while I got dressed – half-leaning out of the bathroom so they could see we weren’t hiding anything. Then they started charging the door. I had a big dialogue with the policeman, saying, ‘It’s bad publicity if you come through the window.’ And he was saying, ‘Just open the window, you’ll only make it worse for yourself.’ I was saying, ‘I want to see the warrant.’ Another guy comes on the roof and they showed me this paper, and I pretended to read it – just to try and think what to do. Then I said, ‘Call the lawyer, call the lawyer,’ but [Yoko] called our office instead. And I was saying, ‘No, not the office – the lawyer.’
Then there was a heave on the door, so I ran and opened it, and said, ‘OK. OK. I’m clean anyway,’ thinking I was clean. And he says, ‘Ah-ha, got you for obstruction!’ And I said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ because I felt confident that I had no drugs.
They all came in, lots of them and a woman. I said, ‘Well, what happens now? Can I call the office? I’ve got an interview in two hours, can I tell them that I can’t come?’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not allowed to make a phone call… Can I use your phone?’ Then our lawyer came.
They [the police] brought some dogs. They couldn’t find the dogs at first – and they kept ringing up, saying, ‘Hello, Charlie, where are the dogs? We’ve been here half an hour.’ And the dogs came.
I’d had all my stuff moved into the flat from my house, and I’d never looked at it. It had just been there for years. I’d ordered cameras and clothes – but my driver brought binoculars, which I didn’t need in my little flat. And inside the binoculars was some hash from last year. Somewhere else in an envelope was another piece of hash. So that was it.
The sniffer dogs, Yogi and Booboo, found the cannabis in various places, including the binoculars case, a film can and a cigarette roller. The following evidence was found:
- 27.3 grains of hashish in an unsealed brown envelope in a blue trunk in the bedroom
- A cigarette case containing traces of hashish on the bedroom floor
- A cigarette rolling machine with traces of cannabis, on top of a mirror in the bedroom
- 191.8 grains of hashish in a binocular case in the living room
Lennon and Ono were marched through the crowds of photographers outside and were taken by police car to Paddington Green. There Lennon spoke to EMI’s Sir Joseph Lockwood, who gave advice on how to deal with the police. “This is Sergeant Lennon; can I help you?” Lennon said as he took the call.
The couple were charged and ordered to appear in court the following day.
Also on this day...
- 2015: Ringo Starr live: Fox Theatre, Detroit, Michigan
- 2014: Ringo Starr live: Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, Jacksonville, Florida
- 2013: Paul McCartney live: Covent Garden, London
- 2010: Remastered Red and Blue albums and Harrison/Shankar Collaborations are released
- 1999: UK album release: Working Classical by Paul McCartney
- 1974: UK single release: Walking In The Park With Eloise by Paul McCartney
- 1968: Tape copying: Yer Blues, Don’t Pass Me By
- 1967: The Beatles attend the première of How I Won The War
- 1965: Recording: If I Needed Someone, In My Life
- 1964: Recording: Eight Days A Week, Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!, Mr Moonlight, I Feel Fine, I’ll Follow The Sun, Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby, Rock And Roll Music, Words Of Love
- 1963: Television: Scene At 6.30
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1961: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1960: Live: Kaiserkeller, Hamburg
- 1958: Live: TV Star Search audition, Hippodrome, Manchester
- 1957: Paul McCartney’s debut with the Quarrymen
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.
Interesting that Lennon states that “inside the binoculars was some hash from last year.” I can only recall him in later interviews saying that the hash planted by the officer.
It was later found that Norman Pilcher had framed many celebrities. Four years after Lennon’s arrest, Pilcher was charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He was convicted and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment.
Here on October 7, 2020, my 1st granddaughter’s 22nd birthday, fascinated with finding “on this day in history” …… Lennon’s deportation sentence was reversed by the New York (USA) Supreme Court. Then-President Richard “I-am-not-a-thief” Nixon wanted Lennon gone soooooo bad he ordered our FBI to “find some dirt” so as to deport them. We haven’t really changed much since 1975, our White House “contenders” still used the FBI to investigate our newly elected President in hopes of impeachment BEFORE taking office!
Congrats on your granddaughter’s birthday, Pete! My daughter recently turned 20. Hard to believe John would have been 80 tomorrow! Miss him. Love him.