Cops strip searched six kids at festival: Inquiry
Police officers may have broken the law multiple times when they strip searched children at a NSW festival, leaving one 16-year-old "humiliated" and unable to trust the force, an inquiry heard.
It's also been revealed more than 90 per cent of strip searches at the festival found no drugs and one senior officer admits there was "probably" no justification for searches like the one that has triggered the investigation.
The 16-year-old was sobbing uncontrollably at last year's Splendour in the Grass after being "completely humiliated" during a strip search which legally should have been done in the presence of a parent or guardian, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) heard on Monday.
Statistics compiled by the commission found there were 512 searches at the 2018 event, 143 of these were strip searches and seven of those were in people under 18-years-old.
Only one of those seven had a support person present, the inquiry statistics note.
Under police regulations a parent, guardian or support person must be present whenever a child between 10 and 18 is stripsearched, Council Assisting the Commission Peggy Dwyer told the hearing.
"Police do not have an untrammelled right to detain, question or search," she said.
"Absent any legal justification it could constitute an assault."
During a four-day Sydney hearing the watchdog will investigate whether officers "engaged in serious misconduct" when the child was targeted following a false detection by a sniffer dog.
The girl, who is known as BRC, told the probe she was waiting in line on day one of all ages Byron Bay festival in July 2018 when a police dog sat down next to her and an officer told her: "put your hands where I can see them and don't reach for anything."
"I was really scared because I didn't have any drugs on me and I was completely alone," the girl said in a statement.
BRC said she was led inside a tent where a female officer put on a pair of rubber gloves before ordering her to undress and even remove her panty-liner for inspection.
"She told me to squat on the ground. She then squatted down and looked underneath me," the girl said.
No drugs were found on the girl, the inquiry heard.
"I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I could not stop crying. I was completely humiliated," she said.
"I feel I can no longer trust police."
One senior officer was asked what would justify strip searching a 16-year-old who has told police they are not carrying drugs and does not appear intoxicated.
The officer responded that it was up to whichever officers were in charge of the search to decide for themselves.
"A lot of the young kids go there as mules," the officer said.
"They go in with all the drugs on one person or whatever."
The commanding officer was unable to justify the search under the law to the commission when pressed on the question.
"By what you said, the allegation, it may be that there wasn't the seriousness … if I was there as Inspector I would have said no," he said.
The statistics revealed only 8.4 per cent of 143 strip searches conducted at the festival found drugs.
Chief Commissioner Michael Adams QC said the statistics seemed to show many of the strip searches were carried out without the "proper basis".
Searches at this year's Splendour In The Grass festival dropped significantly, down to less than 20, the senior officer told the inquiry.
He explained how, this year, he issued updated operational orders to his officers about what was expected of them under the law.
He admitted he was aware the commission was looking into strip searches when he issued the orders but denied he knew about the search of BRC.
Mr Adams said the legislation might "cover the bases" to help police conduct searches but became challenging for officers not to overstep in the field.
"The problem with this legislation is that it applies to a 16-year-old kid who has a joint in his underpants as much as it does an OMCG member who has a knife and a knuckle duster and who knows what concealed," he said.
The inquiry continues.