Here's what happened when cops raided a Thin Lizzy tour hoping to score a huge drugs bust

Thin Lizzy at the Yokohama wharf, Kanagawa, September 1980
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

The Royal Ulster Constabulary must have been looking for an easy win when they decided to bust Thin Lizzy for drugs – it almost seems too simple, like getting the Gallagher brothers to carry round a swear jar. It was 1980 and Phil Lynott’s mob had a new guitarist to bed in, with blues virtuoso and sometime Pink Floyd six-stringer Snowy White recently joining.

White’s first jaunt with his new bandmates was a tour of Ireland, and he must have wondered what he’d let himself in for when the group and their entire touring party ended up at the headquarters of the RUC in Enniskillen. The late music journalist Harry Doherty was there and recounted the scenario in Classic Rock: “The RUC had put roadblocks up to stop the band as they headed for a gig in Co. Antrim,” he wrote. 

“Lizzy’s reputation for hard drugs as well as hard rock had preceded them but word of an RUC bust had been leaked and the band were prepared. At the station, we were all questioned individually; some of the band, including Snowy White, were stripped down to their underwear, but nothing was found. Later, I found that one of the entourage, a close friend of Phil’s, had dropped four grams of cocaine into a waste bin on the way in – and picked it up again on the way out!” 

The RUC were determined to sniff something out, though. Later that night at the Antrim gig, the band got word that the drugs squad would be in the audience and making an unscheduled visit backstage. Orders went out to dispose of any drugs in the vicinity. 

Snowy White recalled his eventful introduction to the band in Classic Rock. “I told one of the cops: ‘I’m probably one of the cleanest musicians you’ll get round here. I don’t even smoke cigarettes.’ ‘Just tell me,’ he asked, ‘for my own peace of mind – do the band take drugs?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I haven’t seen any at all!’” 

And with that, the RUC dropped the case and those clean-living boys in Thin Lizzy could get on with business.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.