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Watchdog finds NSW Police conducted unlawful strip searches at music festivals

Watchdog finds NSW Police conducted unlawful strip searches at music festivals
July 23, 2020

NSW’s Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) - the watchdog for NSW Police - has this week revealed that it has found further instances of illegal strip searches conducted by officers at music festivals.

Following on from a report released in May, which found NSW Police officers had unlawfully strip-searched teenagers on eight occasions, mostly at music festivals, the latest revelations include an example where a young woman was asked to remove her tampon during a strip-search.

It was among instances of Police misconduct uncovered in an investigation into five controversial strip-searches across Sydney last year.

The further instances of illegal strip searches, which resulted in no drugs being found, all involved young people.

The LECC report calls on NSW Police to apologise to one of the young women involved, and noted in another case that an officer had been suspended from duty.

The cases were reviewed either after parents of the women complained or they received coverage in local media.

In one instance, the report advises of a young performer at the Secret Garden festival being ordered to pull down her underwear and bend over before being spoken to unprofessionally and laughed at by male Police officers.

The review found that in many cases, NSW Police reported not knowing what they could do in a strip-search with the examples raising questions over the legality of the conduct of officers, pressure to conduct searches, and poor communication and record-keeping.

In March 2019, Strike Force Blackford was established to investigate five complaints about strip searches performed by NSW Police officers, mostly at music festivals.

That included the 2019 festivals Hidden, Secret Garden and Midnight Mafia, as well as the 2018 Midnight Mafia.

The complainants described the experience of being strip searched as humiliating, degrading and traumatic. All had been identified by drug detection dogs.

In all cases, no drugs were found. Two of the strip searches were found to be unlawful.

Throughout the Strike Force Blackford, multiple officers said they felt pressured to conduct strip searches at festivals.

A junior officer gave evidence that she felt she was "not in a position to say 'no' to anyone when I was directed to search people (at the Secret Garden Festival)".

Since these incidents, the NSW Police have implemented two new policy manuals on person searching.

The LECC noted it had also improved education and briefing procedures for searching officers.

A final report from the inquiry is due at the end of the year.

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2nd June 2020 - Sydney Festival names Olivia Ansell as new Festival Director for 2022

13th May 2020 - Woodford Folk Festival founder Bill Hauritz says event will survive

9th May 2020 - NSW Police watchdog say strip searches of teenagers at music festivals were ‘illegal’

17th January 2020 - NSW Police have major presence at Tamworth Country Music Festival 2020

11th December 2019 - NSW Government to introduce drug amnesty bins but no pill testing at music festivals

14th November 2019 - Live music industry welcomes amendments to NSW Music Festivals Bill

8th November 2019 - NSW Coroner recommends introduction of pill testing and banning sniffer dogs at festivals

16th October 2019 - NSW Government to ignore Coroner’s pill testing recommendation as it reintroduces festival management laws

25th September 2019 - Live Performance Australia advises that collaboration is key to safer music festivals

28th August 2019 - Inquiry calls for scrapping of NSW festival licencing scheme

19th July 2019 - NSW music festival deaths inquiry told trauma of strip-searches similar to that of sexual assaults

13th July 2019 - Inquest hears of multiple failings by organisers and Police over festival drug deaths

30th May 2019 - Following 2018 drug deaths Defqon.1 festival now ‘postponed indefinitely’

20th January 2019 - NSW Government to require licensing of music festivals after drug deaths

16th September 2018 - NSW Premier vows to ban Sydney music festival after drug deaths

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