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Australia 'I could not believe this was happening': Teen recounts Splendour strip-search

05:05  21 october  2019
05:05  21 october  2019 Source:   smh.com.au

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Seven children were strip - searched by members of NSW Police at last year's Splendour in the Grass music festival. According to data compiled by the " I could not believe this was happening to me ; I could not stop crying; I was completely humiliated," the girl, whose identity has been suppressed

“ I could not believe this was happening to me ; I could not stop crying; I was completely humiliated. A strip - search is by necessity a grave intrusion of a In NSW, police are only permitted to carry out field strip - searches if the urgency and seriousness of the situation requires it. In the case of minors a

a brown and white dog on a leash: A police sniffer dog on duty at this year's Splendour in the Grass music festival near Byron Bay.© AAP A police sniffer dog on duty at this year's Splendour in the Grass music festival near Byron Bay.

A 16-year-old girl, allegedly strip-searched illegally at Splendour in the Grass, has described the "humiliating" experience of taking her clothes off in front of a police officer after being falsely detected by a sniffer dog.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission on Monday heard that police asked the teenager her age and took her identification but didn't call her parents or anyone else capable of caring for her, in breach of their search powers.

In a statement read to a public hearing before the commission, the teenager said she became frightened after having her phone confiscated and being separated from her friends, recounting the moment when it dawned on her she was going to have to get completely naked.

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"I could not believe this was happening to me; I could not stop crying; I was completely humiliated," the teenager, whose identity has been suppressed, said.

She said she was told to squat and was even asked to remove her panty liner inside her underwear for inspection.

The commission heard the teenager was lining up to enter the Byron Bay music festival last year when a sniffer dog sat down next to her and a female police officer ordered her to "put your hands where I can see them and don't reach for anything".

She said she was escorted away with her hands in the air and she could hear other revellers saying out loud that police "had someone".

"I was really scared," she said.

The teenager said that, while this was happening, she was asked how old she was, to which she replied that she was 16.

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The inquiry heard she was "sobbing uncontrollably" when she spoke to a solicitor at the festival after the incident, which is now the subject of the hearing in which strip-searching practices are set to be scrutinised more generally.

"I was absolutely shocked that the police would do this to me," the teenager said.

Chief commissioner Michael Adams, QC, who is presiding over the four-day hearing, described the allegations as "quite shocking".

Police are only permitted to carry out field strip-searches if the urgency and seriousness of the situation requires it and, in the case of minors, if a parent or guardian is present, unless an immediate search is necessary to protect the person or prevent the destruction of evidence. Children under 10 cannot be strip-searched.

Counsel assisting the commissioner, Peggy Dwyer, who read the statement on the teenager's behalf, said a strip-search was "by necessity a grave intrusion of a citizen's privacy and dignity".

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"Absent any legal justification, it would constitute an assault, and I anticipate that the commission will hear that it is capable of causing great distress and lasting harm," Dr Dwyer said during her opening address.

She said a child could not waive his or her legal right to a parent, guardian or independent person.

The hearing comes just days after the leaking of Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame's draft recommendations into music festival deaths, which included overhauling strip-search powers following a University of NSW report that was critical of police practices.

NSW Police data obtained by the Redfern Legal Centre this year showed that almost 300 children were strip-searched in the field over a two-year period between the financial years 2016-17 and 2017-18, with the youngest person subjected to the procedure being 10.

The hearing continues.

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