Guilty or Framed

This November John Lennon’s fans commemorate the 46th anniversary of this Beatle’s only judicial conviction. Indeed, on Nov. 28, 1968, John pled guilty to possession of cannabis resin and was fined 150-pound-plus-20-guinea costs. The bright side was that he and his partner, Yoko Ono, were found not guilty of obstructing the police. Besides the conviction giving John trouble when applying for visas to travel to other countries, four years later, it formed the basis for the administration of President Richard Nixon ordering him deported, arguing that immigration law prevented the admission and stay of those with any drug offense in their judicial records.

Was John in fact guilty or was he framed?

Let’s time travel to 1968 to discuss this question. That year, the Beatle got confidential word from a Daily Express journalist, Don Shorter. This reporter suggested that Sergeant Norman Pilcher, the head of London’s most prolific police drug squad, and his favorite marijuana-sniffing dog, Yogi, had the Beatle and his girlfriend in the crosshairs, and that a police raid in the flat where the couple lived was in the cards.

Three weeks after the rock star received the warning, a forty-strong police force, according to one account, ransacked, in the morning of Oct. 18, the flat at 34 Montagu Square, London W.1., originally leased by fellow Beatle Ringo Starr but the temporary home of John and Yoko, who was pregnant at the time. Pilcher claimed to have discovered 219 grains of cannabis resin in the search. After being taken into detention to the Marylebone Lane Police Station, the artists were also charged with obstructing the police in carrying out the search warrant.  

In an interview with Andy Peoples on a syndicated broadcast by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) two days before the Beatle’s death, John explained the situation. He said that the previous resident, Jimi Hendrix, had left tons of drugs in the flat. When he found out that Pilcher was coming after him, the Liverpudlian rocker contended that he thoroughly and painstakingly cleaned up the premises of any trace of the drug stacks. The Beatle consequently raised the suspicion that the law enforcement officers might had planted the cannabis resin in the flat.

For a short while John and Yoko stayed at their lawyer’s, Nicholas Cowan, house located at 35 Redcliffe Road, West Brompton, London, and on the next day, at Marylebone Magistrates’ Court, they were released on bail until their court hearing date slated for Nov. 28. Hours after having been set free, Yoko had to be rushed to Queen Charlotte’s MaternityHospital, where the doctors confirmed that she had suffered a miscarriage. Some observers blamed Pilcher and his timing of his operation for this mishap.

The music celebrity said that the thing was set up by Pilcher, who had called the press for some photos ops at the flat. In fact, reporters from the newspapers the Daily Express and the Daily Mail were by it even before the cops came. John added that the only reason he had pled guilty was because he thought that otherwise the British government would had deported Yoko since at that point they were not married yet. After the musician’s plea, a police officer – probably Pilcher himself – told him, ”Well, we’ve got it now. So it’s nothing personal”. The picture on the back of the jacket of John’s album “Unfinished Music No. 2 – Life with the Lions” is of John and Yoko being dragged out of the police station. It is from a newspaper photograph.

Some fans claim that the musical personality also wrote about the sergeant in his song “I Am the Walrus,” in the lines that they read as saying “Semolina Pilcher Climbing Up the Eiffel tower.” But John and the rest of the Beatles recorded this tune on Nov. 24, 1967, so this possibility seems unlikely.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).

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