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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
REM star 'lied to court'
Guitarist Peter Buck
Peter Buck was arrested at Heathrow Airport
REM star Peter Buck tried to cover up a drunken air rage attack in order to protect his multi-million pound career, a court has heard.

The normally respectable and quiet man wanted to preserve the image of his band, prosecuting QC David Bate told Isleworth Crown Court on Wednesday.

He alleged Mr Buck, 45, had concocted a story about a sleeping pill reaction to relinquish responsibility for his behaviour on a British Airways flight from Seattle to London last April.

The rock star denies one count of being drunk aboard the plane, two counts of common assault involving an air stewardess and the cabin services director, and one of damaging British Airways property.

It is a lie borne out of desperation because he knows full well that he was responsible

David Bate QC, prosecuting

Mr Buck, who was on a 10-hour flight to perform at the Nelson Mandela concert in Trafalgar Square, is accused of attacking two cabin staff and covering them in yoghurt, knocking over a trolley and trying to steal a knife.

The rock star claims he suffered a rare reaction after taking a sleeping tablet and drinking up to six small glasses of red wine. He said he blacked out and "awoke" in a police cell.

But Mr Bate told the jury: "He has a powerful motive to change his story because he realises it will reflect badly upon him and the group of which he is so justifiably proud."

The prosecution told the court that Mr Buck made no mention of the sleeping pills to police after his arrest and no pills were found on him.

Mr Bate added: "It is an attempt to provide himself with a defence however contrived and artificial when he knows he has none."

'Arrogant drunk'

But Richard Ferguson, QC, defending, said the case against Mr Buck was "riddled with contradiction and blighted by confusion".

The star had been sober when he boarded the flight and any bizarre behaviour was innocently triggered by a bad reaction to drinking wine while taking the sleeping tablet Zolpiden, also known as Ambien.

No attempt at a "dishonest offence" had been concocted, Mr Ferguson said, admitting that the guitarist had been drinking more than normally and more quickly than usual.

We hope that when he awakens from this nightmare it will not be to face the heavy bludgeon of the law but to have restored to him his family, his freedom, and his peace of mind

Richard Ferguson QC, defending
Witnesses may have wrongly identified him as the culprit in the dimmed light of the small cabin as events quickly unfolded, the jury was told.

To the untrained eye Mr Buck's behaviour could easily have appeared to the crew like that of a "self-important arrogant drunk" but that would not account for the added impact of the sleeping pills, the defence argued.

The "unique circumstances" of the case is that Mr Buck's speech, unsteady gait and staggering may have been triggered by consuming Ambien and alcohol. He was not reckless and did not act with criminal intent, Mr Ferguson said.

Both alleged victims have each lodged 5,000 compensation claims and this may have had some effect upon their evidence, the defence suggested.

Mr Buck cannot remember anything and he finds it "very difficult to accept that the behaviour credited to him could have been him", Mr Ferguson added.

He said his much-valued good name across the world has also been damaged by the trial.

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday.

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