REM guitarist Peter Buck was today cleared of "ransacking" a first class cabin during an alleged drunken airborne rampage on a flight to London.
The 45-year-old American rock star, who was accused of attacking British Airways cabin staff during hours of allegedly "loutish behaviour", blamed a pre-takeoff sleeping pill for transforming him into a mindless "automaton".
The millionaire father-of-two, described by his wife, fellow celebrities and other friends as the "politest, gentlest" person imaginable, said a pill turned most of the 10-hour Seattle to Heathrow flight last April into a mental blank.
The prosecution had claimed he changed from a "pleasant and polite southern gentleman" into a "nasty and foul-mouthed drunk" after drinking about 15 glasses of wine.
Mr Buck said he had drunk up to six small glasses of red wine and had been affected by the sleeping tablet while on the flight to London for an REM appearance at the Nelson Mandela concert in Trafalgar Square.
Today, a jury at Isleworth crown court in west London found him not guilty of being drunk on a plane, assaulting an air stewardess and a cabin services director and of causing criminal damage to British Airways' property.
Mr Buck sighed audibly and wiped his brow as the jury, which had deliberated for five-and-a-half hours, returned its verdicts.
Mr Buck's friends and supporters gasped with relief as he was cleared of all four charges. His childhood friend, lead singer Michael Stipe took off his glasses and wiped his eyes.
Later, outside court, Mr Buck, dressed in a dark suit, blue tie and brown suede shoes, clasped his wife's hand firmly as his solicitor Neill Blundell read out a statement.
He told reporters: "Peter Buck has asked me to make a statement on his behalf: 'I am grateful to the court, the jury and my lawyers to my family, friends and supporters who have stood by me throughout this experience.
"'I am obviously relieved to be finished here and I look forward to be returning my attention to my family, my band and music'." Mr Buck refused to comment further, but when asked if he would be flying home with British Airways, he replied "yes".
A spokesman for British Airways said Buck would be welcome to travel again with the airline following the not guilty verdicts.
However, the union Amicus said it would be pursuing legal claims for compensation on behalf of two cabin crew members involved in the incident. The action is likely to be against British Airways or the ground crew at Seattle airport.
General secretary Sir Ken Jackson said: "This incident has left cabin crew traumatised. Air rage is an increasing problem for our members.
"There should be no excuses and we should have no tolerance for passengers who abuse airline staff."
Mr Buck has always been seen as a book-ish figure, far removed from the excesses of the world of rock'n'roll. REM singer Michael Stipe told the court during the trial that Mr Buck was the epitome of a "southern gentleman" who would rather retire to his hotel to read after a gig than go to the bar to drink.
Nevertheless, he had seemed resigned to spending a spell in prison after the drunken incident by signing off his last monthly column for Q magazine: "I'll see you in jail next month."
Born in Los Angeles, his family soon moved to San Francisco where he immersed himself in music - the Beatles and the Motown stars of the Sixties were his early inspiration.
He eventually dropped out of university but his interests led to him working in a record shop, eventually being transferred to the Athens, Georgia, branch of Wuxtry Records.
It was there he became friendly with Stipe, who was a regular customer. They formed a band with Mike Mills and Bill Berry after meeting them at a party and debuted as the Twisted Kites at a party in Athens in April 1980.
It took several years for the band, which changed its name to REM, to have major commercial success, which came with the Out Of Time album in 1991, which featured the hit track Losing My Religion.
The next album, Automatic For The People, which some critics hailed as a masterpiece, sold more than 10 million copies after it was released in 1992. Mr Buck married his second wife Stephanie - a lawyer with whom he has two daughters Zoe and Zelda - in 1995 as the band returned to touring for the first time in more than five years.