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The State Emergency Service was “not happy” that volunteers were used as support people during the strip-search of children and ordered two members to leave a music festival inlast weekend due to a fear of the “legal ramifications”, an inquiry has heard.
On Thursday the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission heard that three SES volunteers were ordered to leave the festival only an hour after they arrived due to “concerns” raised by senior officials.
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“I have my suspicions it won’t happen again,” an SES team leader told the commission.
The LECC is conductingan under-18s event held in Sydney in February.
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The inquiry is investigating the strip-searches of three boys aged 15, 16 and 17 at the festival, none of which found any illegal drugs, as well as the “general question” of how police exercise their strip-search powers in NSW.
It previously heard police had arranged for two SES volunteers to act as independent support people during searches at that festival, a requirement when strip-searching a minor in NSW, but that a senior police officer.
On Thursday a unit commander with the SES said that while the two volunteers did hold the qualification, police waited until seven months after the festival in September to check.
The decision to use SES volunteers has been the subject of criticism from the LECC’s commissioner, Michael Adams QC, who has questioned what qualifications SES members had to represent the rights of minors during a strip-search.
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The inquiry heard police did not tell two SES volunteers who attended the under-18s festival in February they would be asked to witness strip-searches until after they arrived at the event.
An SES unit commander told the LECC that when he was contacted by police in the lead up to an under-18s music festival in February he was asked to provide volunteers to act as support people for children during interviews, but not strip-searches.
The inquiry heard that even after the volunteers were told they might be asked to be present during a search, a volunteer said police did not use the word strip-search and that he was not expecting to witness one.
“Not initially, not until the first one,” a volunteer who said he witnessed about six strip-searches at the festival told the inquiry.
“I was not expecting it.”
Adams repeatedly pressed the two volunteers who gave evidence at the inquiry on what they understood their role to be during the search.
Asked whether it was correct to assume he “didn’t know” the legal rights of a child during the search, the volunteer replied “that would be correct”.
While he said he acted with his “best intentions” in acting as a support person, the volunteer conceded he didn’t “know anything about these rules”.
After the event in February, police again contacted the SES to arrange volunteers to act as support people for an all-ages music festival held last weekend.
On Thursday an SES unit commander told the LECC that only an hour after they arrived senior officials raised concerns about the presence of volunteers at a music festival and ordered them to leave.
The unit commander said a memorandum of understanding between the volunteer organisation and police “may be reviewed given recent events”.
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