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Tabloid's Downfall Music to Keith Richards' Ears


Keith Richards must be grinning, if not outright guffawing. Finally, he and Mick Jagger have their revenge. The British tabloid, News of the World, racked by its own scandal, is closing down. ---

It was NOTW that engineered a police raid on Keith Richard's home in 1967. Richards' estate in Sussex, about 50 miles from London, was a gathering place for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles as well as other stars. In fact, George Harrison was visiting on the day of the raid, but left a few hours before the early evening bust.

At the time, I was living in London, writing for a newspaper. I only vaguely remember the fuss when Mick Jagger took on News of the World after it did a story saying he was taking LSD. Jagger vehemently denied the accusation, saying he intended to sue the tabloid for libel. A few days later, Jagger's lawyers filed a lawsuit against NOTW. The raid on Richards' home happened less than a week after the suit was filed.

Nearly two dozen cops descended on the home, and on Richards, Jagger and his then girlfriend, Marianne Faithful. The raid was the origin of the legendary Mars Bar story, a viral rumor that Mick was found chowing down a Mars bar inserted into--um, a private place between the legs of Marianne Faithful. The rumor was false, but police did find Marianne naked, wrapped in a fur rug. They also found a lot of hash, but as I remember, no LSD.

Under English law at the time (and maybe still), police could not reveal an arrest until after charges were official, with no details given out until the trial. But exactly a week after the bust, before any police announcement, NOTW broke the entire story, complete with lurid details. Though rumors had been flying, no announcement about the bust had yet come from the police--the NOTW headlines scooped even the cops.

The Stones' lawyers found this suspicious, and accused NOTW of tipping off the cops and even engineering the raid in response to Mick's lawsuit. The tabloid of course denied it. At the trial, five months later, Mick was sentenced to three months in jail for having four amphetamine pills. But Keith was sentenced to a year in prison for allowing pot to be smoked in his home. The two Rolling Stones were immediately hauled off in handcuffs.

Even the establishment was outraged by the severity of the sentences. The turning point came when the Times, Britain's largest newspaper, published an editorial titled "Who Breaks a Butterfly on a Wheel?" It accused the British justice system of being harsher on the two rock stars because of their image. Less than a month later, an appeals court freed them both.

It was obvious to anyone who knew the facts that News of the World was involved in the entire incident. In fact, during the trial, the defense lawyers accused NOTW of planting a man known as "The Acid King" as a guest at Richards' home the day of the raid. Only much later did NOTW acknowledge that Mr. Acid King was their "reliable source" who personally, at their behest, called the cops with a tip that they would find drugs at Richards' home and later gave NOTW details for their front page story.

I remember talking with Keith about it after he was released from jail--and though he was laid back and humorous about most things, his anger at being set up by a trashy tabloid was palpable. He said, clenching his teeth, "Their karma will come. No matter how long it takes, they'll pay."

It took 44 years--certainly not instant karma--but karma as thorough and complete as possible. Which means that this week's word for Keith Richards is, of course--Satisfaction.