- 02 May 01
When Adam Clayton was arrested in Dublin in August of 1989 and charged with possession of 19 grammes of cannabis with intent to supply, it placed U2's immediate future as a live band in jeopardy. Trial report: Liam Fay.
You could be forgiven for thinking that most of the national newspapers had sent along their fashion correspondents to cover the trial of Adam Clayton, all drugs-related charges.
"Clayton in an expensive but crumpled check suit sat flanked by Mullen in a crombie overcoat pulled over a denim jacket and McGuinness in his customary immaculate double business pin-stripe," said the Irish
Mr. Clayton was wearing a Prince Of Wales check suit with a black shirt and silver chains around his neck," said the Evening Press.
"Clayton wasin a light black and white check suit and a dark shirt," said the Evening Herald.
None of the papers, as you can see, made any reference to what kind of shoes the defendant and his two friends were wearing. Well, I can now rectify this glaring omission by exclusively revealing that Larry Mullen Jnr. wore a pair of runners, Paul McGuinness had a pair of stylishly-cut leather slip-ons and Adam himself sported grey loafers, with black socks that stretched upwards, three and a half inches above his ankle. I gleaned this invaluable piece of intelligence when I grabbed his foot so that our photographer could get a shot up the leg of his trousers. The public has a right to know, after all.
Make no mistake, this whole incident or a field-month, rather - for the Irish media. Adam Clayton did the press an extraordinary favour by getting arrested on Sunday, August 6th, the day before a Bank Holiday Monday, thus allowing them to fill what would normally have been a drab front page with pictures of the country's most famous bass player outside a courthouse, alongside headlines like "U2 MAN ON DRUGS CHARGES"! Then he unwittingly did the media a second favour, having his trial set for Friday September 1st, the official end of school summer holidays. This was the perfect story with which to finish off the year's silly season.
Just before 10.30 am, a huge black Mercedes reversed into the yard outside Dundrum courthouse and Adam, Larry and Paul McGuinness were bundled in through the waiting phalanxes of reporters, gardai and about fifty young fans. They were barely in the door when justice Desmond Windle appeared at his bench and started the proceedings. The judge, who was dressed in a knee-length, bright red mini-skirt, a skimpy blouse and pearl necklace (well, that's a lie actually but I just thought I'd have a go at this sartorial reporting, seeing as everyone else is doing it), seemed genuinely distressed by the number of people in his courtroom and reminded us all that we were in the presence of ‘the law' and that we should mind our manners.
In a previous incarnation, I spent a great deal of time in District Courts and remembered them as breathtakingly boring places presided over by ancient men suffering from physical and mental rigor mortis in varying degrees of advanced-ness. The cases too always seemed faintly ludicrous (once, I distinctly heard a judge say that a young man bad been charged "with cycling in a built-up area without a bicycle"!). However, there was something about the gravity of the cases on this particular morning which concentrated the mind, in sharp contrast to the giddy media circus outside.
The first young man before the dock was charged with using an imitation gun in a series of assaults and over the next hour or so we heard of many other cases of muggings, car thefts and burglaries. While all this was going on, however, most of the reporters had their eyes fixed on the U2 rhythm section and their manager. McGuinness was impassive throughout, Mullen nervously tapped out a paradiddle on the seat in front of him and Clayton adopted that grimace of intense concentration that he uses when he's playing something like the bass break in "Gloria". The only person who had managed to squeeze in beside the three of them was an eight or nine year-old hard-chaw with a tight haircut and a Guns N' Roses jacket. This kid was well aware that he had one of the most sought-after positions in the courtroom and he wasn't afraid to flaunt the fact. He made faces at the row of reporters, gave the finger to his mates who were peering in through the courtroom door and amused everyone by mimicking McGuinness' crossed-arms and stern-looking face.
At one point, in elderly couple who were in court to testify on behalf' of their son approached Larry and, mistaking him for Adam, wished him the best of luck. Larry didn't correct their mistake and told them lie was sure everything was going to be fine.
Just after 11.45 the Clayton case was called and Adam walked to the centre of the court his hands clasped in front of him. It was immediately established that the intent to supply charge was being dropped by the State, and Clayton pleaded guilty to the charge of possession. Then Detective Garda Michael Moody recounted how, on August 6th, he and another Garda had gone to the car park of the Blue Light pub in Glencullen, as a result of a call from Garda communications. There he observed a number of people standing around a black Aston Martin car with one man, who he identified as Clayton, sitting in the boot. Carrying out a search under the Misuse Of Drugs Act, Garda Moody said that he looked in the boot and discovered a resinous substance which later proved to be 19 grammes of cannabis. Justice Windle enquired as to how many 'cigarettes' you could make from 19 grammes . "About 150," replied Garda Moody. Windle then chuckled and said, "Oh, people are allowed bring 200 cigarettes through customs from duty free - but not cannabis." Larry Mullen thought that was rather funny. Paul McGuinness didn't.
Garda Moody then further recounted how he had brought Clayton to Dundrum station and then searched him, discovering a black Swiss armytype knife containing traces of cannabis. (While testifying, Garda Moody was dressed in a light blue shirt, navy tie and, er, sharply creased slacks).
Defence solicitor Garret Sheehan had no questions to put to Garda Moody. He did, however, inform the court that his client, Mr. Clayton, was 29, single and a musician by occupation. "He is a talented and successful musician," added Mr. Sheehan. "He has brought honour to the country and not inconsiderable employment." Mr. Sheehan then pleaded for leniency for his client and emphasised that a conviction on a drugs charge would cause major visa problems for Clayton, who frequently had to travel abroad with his band. Justice Windle made it clear that he understood the objective of the defence case and then ordered a 30 minute recess so that Mr. Sheehan could confer with Prosecuting Barrister, Maurice Hearne, about a suitable penalty. Garret Sheehan, by the way, was dressed in... Oh, never mind.
As soon as the Clayton case was called again, it quickly became apparent that this was Justice Windle's gig and no-one was going to upstage him. He played a blinder, every inch the impartial District justice - unimpressed by rock stardom and determined to dispense the rigours of the law without fear or favour.
Windle made it clear that he wasn't exactly an expert on rock'n'roll. Indeed, if he'd said that he ranked the musical profession somewhere between rat-catching and the mugging of old ladies, no one would have argued. "I don't know anything about these singing groups," he announced, with perhaps a hint of disdain, "but I understand that they have some influence on children, youths and - how long do they listen to this stuff? -until they're about thirty, I suppose."
He made no pretence to having been aware of Mr. Clayton's band. No, not only does he not 'like' U2's music, he doesn't even know who they are! Could that have been a chink of inconsistency in his attitude, then, when he began lecturing Clayton on the 'dreadful example' he had shown to those fans who regard him as a 'hero'?
The Prosecuting Barrister next informed the court that, following his consultation with the defence solicitor, they had decided that the Probation Act could apply in this case, if the justice saw fit to do so. Mr. Sheehan added that his client was willing to make a "substantial contribution". "A very substantial contribution?", asked District justice Windle. "Yes," replied Mr. Sheehan.
The Judge's summing up was brief. He accepted that Mr. Clayton was a man of good character, that he had been given the cannabis as a present and that he "bitterly regretted this incident". He was, however, 'distressed' to hear that the defendant had a Previous conviction under the Road Traffic Act. He also conceded that, in terms of drug offences, Possession of 19 grammes of cannabis was "on a very low scale of importance" - but he went to great pains to remind its that all illegal substances caused a stench in the civic nostril. He then made his judgement ...
Justice Windle may not be able to tell the difference between Bono Vox and a corpus delecti but he certainly seemed to know who he was dealing with when it came to deciding on an appropriate fine. "Would the defendant be prepared to pay £25,000 to The Women's Aid Refuge Centre?" he asked. Mr. Sheehan turned to Paul McGuinness. The U2 manager's eyebrows hail shot up his forehead in a look of incredulity but he quickly retrieved them and nodded his assent. The judge, however, was taking no chances, asking that the money be paid straight away.
The District justice then said that, under the Probation Of Offenders Act, he would dismiss the charge without conviction, having regard to the character of' the accused, the nature of the offence and the prospect of rehabilitation.
So that was it. In less time than it takes to roll a joint, it was all over. McGuinness, Mullen and were hustled through the assembled throng and into their waiting Mercedes. "Where's Bono," and "Gis an autograph," a couple of kids shouted, as a mob of photographers literally kicked and gouged one another in a bid to get a snap of three men sitting ill a car.
Back at the U2 office, they’d been waitingby the radio all morning for news from the courthouse. Now that it was all over, there was, simply, a relief, that the worst possible outcome had been avoided. When the Probation Act is applied, there is no conviction. Adam's records would remain clear of drug offences, thus making the task of getting visas for Australia, Japan and the US much more straightforward. A major trauma, which might ultimately have placed a question over the band's ability to survive as the finely integrated unit we know, of over 10 years standing, had been avoided.
They were not alone in feeling relieved. Indeed the general consensus seems to be that the £25,000 loss to Adam or the band notwithstanding - in a sense, it turned out well for everyone ill the end. The State got its Satisfaction, a deserving charity got its money and Adam Clayton didn't get a conviction.
However, there was another sound to be heard in that Dundrum courtroom apart from the sighs of satisfaction at a job well done, and that was the baying of an ass like piece of legislation, which makes the possession of cannabis a crime. When is that stupid, irrelevant and time-wasting statute going to be amended? We'll be waiting...
As the U2 Mercedes drove off into the Dundrum sunset, all old man who had been hanging around all morning and had clapped Adam on the back as he left the court sighed deeply and said, "All well, sure he's a great singer. A great singer."