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Police say Rainbow Serpent Festival ‘hijacked’ by organised drug dealers

Police say Rainbow Serpent Festival ‘hijacked’ by organised drug dealers
January 31, 2019

With a record number of arrests made at this year's five-day Rainbow Serpent festival, Victoria Police say the event was "hijacked" by organised drug syndicates.

Victoria Police Inspector Dan Davison said they had made a record number of arrests at festival site at Lexton in regional Victoria, with the majority of the 54 offenders implicated in drug possession and trafficking.

Inspector Davison said Police had not previously seen illicit behaviour so blatantly on display at the event, advising "the traffickers have been very overt in their actions

"Which indicates to me that the festival itself has been hijacked by potential organised crime as a platform for them to sell their wares to the vulnerable patrons that are at the festival."

He said festival organisers could not be expected to prevent the criminal activity occurring across the event, telling the ABC "we've worked really strongly with the Rainbow Serpent staff and organisation, and we'll continue to do that.

"As well run as it is, they can't gear up to tackle the sort of crime that they've seen this year, particularly in the drug space.

"Regardless of how small that syndicate may be, it's well organised — particularly given the substances we've seen coming through the event.

"We've had seizures of ketamine, MDMA, acid or LSD, cannabis as well as methamphetamine."

Festival organiser Tim Harvey told ABC Radio Statewide Drive that he does not deny the claims from Police, commenting "30 years of prohibition has made an extremely attractive and lucrative market for organised criminals."

Harvey said it was obviously a concerning situation, but that it was not unique to the 18,000-person Rainbow Serpent event, adding "for five days we are the largest town in western Victoria outside of Ballarat, and we will incur some of the other challenges that the rest of society faces.

"When you can't eliminate drugs from prisons and you can't eliminate drugs from the general society, it's an incredibly big ask to expect music festivals to eliminate drugs in their entirety from our grounds.

"This is happening weekend, after weekend, after weekend in every city and town across Australia."

Seven people were hospitalised for suspected drug overdoses at the site, with reports from Police that a British woman is still "fighting for her life in the Austin hospital".

Most of the individuals charged with drug-related offences were given cautions, but a number have already been sentenced in court.

A 23-year-old man from Edithvale in Melbourne's south-east, Kurtis Smith, broke down in tears in the Ballarat Magistrates' Court when he was jailed for three months after pleading guilty to several drug trafficking charges.

He was arrested at the event on Saturday after he was allegedly caught with 32 bags of ketamine and cocaine, 99 ecstasy tablets and other drugs.

A 21-year-old man from Morwell in Victoria's Gippsland, Zac Mangion, was handed an 18-month Community Corrections Order after pleading guilty to one charge of drug trafficking.

There were also several reports of sexual assault and theft at the festival, and Victoria Police and WorkSafe are still investigating a truck rollover on last Thursday that injured two men and a woman in a tent.

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