Australia NSW Police strip-searched shopkeepers at Splendour in the Grass as part of 'military-style' operation, inquiry hears

06:35  24 october  2019
06:35  24 october  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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A solicitor said police at the music festival had created an © ABC News: Bruce Mackenzie A solicitor said police at the music festival had created an "us and them" mentality. Shopkeepers returning from their lunch breaks were strip-searched in a "military-style" police operation at the 2018 Splendour in the Grass Festival, a public hearing has been told.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) is investigating the use of police strip-search powers at the festival, including a case in which a "crying" 16-year-old girl was told to strip and squat.

A solicitor working at the festival, Tracey Randall, told the commission the police presence at the 2018 event created an "us and them" mentality.

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Ms Randall said patrons were confronted by a large number of police when they walked through the gates and shop keepers had complained about the police officers' "military-style formation".

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She said some staff working at the festival were among the 143 people strip-searched.

"Store holders, people working in bars, who were handling money," she said.

She said the money they were handling may have contained traces of drugs, however, none were found with drugs on them.

Ms Randall told the Commission she believed the police were providing "legal advice" which was "inappropriate."

'Just plead guilty'

She said police were telling young people found with drugs that if they filled in a yellow form, pleading guilty, they wouldn't have to go to court and may escape a conviction.

The solicitor said this was not always the case.

"It's not a reliable prediction," she said, adding some magistrates take a dim view of defendants who don't attend court.

Ms Randall was performing legal work at the festival on a pro-bono basis.

"I approached the promoters [because] I have an interest in the legal rights of young people," she said.

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She said in 2018, she was at her pop-up stall when she was approached by a 16-year-old and her friends who were "all very distressed".

Ms Randall said the 16-year old — whose statement was read out earlier this week — told her she had been strip-searched, but was crying so much, it took a "while" to extract information from her.

"She was sobbing uncontrollably," Ms Randall said.

The Commission has been told the 16-year old had been singled out by a sniffer dog before being told to strip and squat — no drugs were found.

Police regulations state a young person being strip-searched but have a parent, guardian or trusted person present.

The 16-year-old had nobody to support her during the search and later told Ms Randall her opinion of the police changed after the incident.

"She said … she couldn't trust police and if something happened to her at the festival she wouldn't feel like she could approach them," she said.

The commission heard evidence that while police sniffer dogs were not always accurate, they did help find large quantities of drugs on some patrons, who had smuggled them in.

At the 2018 festival, fewer than one in 10 strip-searches resulted in drug detections, the hearing was told.

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