R.E.M. Guitarist Cleared

Peter Buck, guitarist for the American rock band R.E.M, was acquitted Friday of going on a drunken rampage on a British Airways flight.

The jury at Isleworth Crown Court in west London found the guitarist not guilty of one count of being drunk on an aircraft, two counts of assaulting crew members and one of damaging BA property.

During the three-week trial, the court was told that Buck, 45, went on an alcohol-fuelled rampage through the first class cabin on a BA flight from Seattle. The incident occurred as he was en route to perform a concert in front of Nelson Mandela in London last April.

The prosecution accused Buck of downing 15 glasses of wine, overturning a trolley, assaulting two cabin crew members, trying to open the emergency exit and trying to hide a knife up his sleeve.

Buck's defense claimed the musician had blacked out after taking a sleeping pill with alcohol.

A string of rock stars and music names lined up to testify on Buck's behalf, telling the court such behavior was totally out of character.

R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe told the court that Buck was "gentle and kind" and the epitome of a perfect "Southern gentleman."

"He is someone who is considerate to all people and genteel, and he follows the golden rule of treating people as you want to be treated, no matter who they are."

U2 singer Bono said Buck was a "peaceable" man who preferred spending time with his children to living the high life.

"I have never ever seen him drunk. I have absolutely never seen him taking drugs."

R.E.M., one of the most successful rock bands in the world, has sold an estimated 40 million records worldwide, according to its label, Warner Bros. Records.

Formed in Athens, Georgia, in 1980 with a line-up of Buck, Stipe, Mike Mills and Bill Berry, the band has released 16 albums and had a string of hits including "Losing My Religion," "Stand" and "Shiny Happy People."

After his arrest at Heathrow last year, Buck released a statement saying: "I am very sorry for the incident and, of course, very embarrassed about the whole thing."