“No Excuse”: NSW Police Slammed For Strip-Searching 12 Children At Under-18s Music Festival

Last year, a police inquiry into strip-searching minors found it's likely illegal without guardian supervision.

NSW Police are being widely criticised by legal officials and MPs after strip-searching 12 minors attending Lost City, an under-18s music festival.

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NSW Police are being widely criticised by legal officials and MPs after strip-searching 12 minors attending Lost City, an under-18s music festival. It comes a year after three invasive strip-searches on minors at the same festival led to an internal investigation that found 25 likely illegal searches had taken place.

44 children were searched at the festival, held this Saturday at Sydney Olympic Park, with NSW Police stating 11 of 12 of the strip-searches found substances.

Six of those 12 had drugs that were “concealed internally”, and altogether, 14 teenagers were found with drugs at the festival. Most notably, NSW Police allege a strip-search on a 14-year-old girl found 31 concealed MDMA capsules.

While it’s within police’s power to strip-search underage civilians, a parent or guardian should be present. Last year’s investigation determined that without a guardian, the searches are ‘potentially illegal’.

As Redfern Legal Centre’s Samantha Lee told the ABC, given that the festival didn’t allow for a parent or guardian to attend, it’s unclear whether the children were aware of their rights.

“In this circumstance, the festival did not allow a parent or guardian in to accompany the child,” she said, “so it is unclear what information was provided to the child that ensured that fully understood the testing they were being subjected to.”

“What we know is that in the majority of strip searches absolutely nothing is found, and what we do know for sure is that strip searches are traumatic, invasive and … therefore should only occur as an absolute last resort.”

Last year’s internal investigation into under-age strip-searches included testimony from several teenagers who said they could no longer trust the police after being strip-searched, with one girl saying she was “completely humiliated” by the ordeal.

At several strip-searches during Lost City last year, two SES volunteers ‘stood in’ as an ‘independent support’ during searches, essentially letting more strangers see the child naked.

In one search, police allegedly touched a 15-year-old boy’s testicles and “rubbed his buttocks” during the search without gloves. It is illegal for the police to touch you during a strip search.

In a media statement today, Greens NSW MP and anti-drug dog campaign Sniff Off organiser David Shoebridge criticised the NSW Police for the searches, and questioned their effectiveness in curtailing drug use.

“There is no evidence that any of these police efforts made the festival drug free or even close to drug free,” he said. “What we do know for certain is that almost 50 children were subjected to intrusive police searches and almost a dozen were strip searched.”

Last year, a NSW Government coroner’s inquiry into six drug deaths at music festivals recommended pill-testing be introduced, sniffer dogs removed from festivals and that strip-searching efforts be downsized dramatically. All these measures are to prevent panic-ingesting or ‘pre-loading’, which was found to be the cause of 19-year-old Alex Ross-King’s overdose at 2019’s FOMO Festival in Parramatta.

The government largely ignored the recommendations, but introduced ‘drug amnesty bins’ at NYE festival NYE at the Park. In his statement, Shoebridge called for a re-examination of NSW Police’s role at music festivals, calling the strip-searches ineffective and ‘traumatising’.

“There are critical protections for children in the law that require police to have a parent or guardian present during a strip search,” said Shoebridge. “It appears none of these safeguards were adhered to by police. The advice from the coroner is that drug dogs and strip-searches make festivals less safe because they encourage attendees to “preload” or panic ingest.”

“It’s maddening that the NSW Police Force continues with its heavy-handed and dangerously counterproductive approach… There is no excuse for children to be exposed to this humiliating, traumatising and potentially illegal practice.”

While in this instance almost all of Lost City’s strip-searches reportedly found illicit substances, sniffer dogs are overall wildly inaccurate at detecting drugs. In NSW, 63 percent of searches undergone after a drug dog indication result in nothing being found.

In 2019’s financial year, NSW Police set a quota for 241,000 personal and strip-searches.

Feature image of Good Life Sydney 2020, via Good Life Presents’ Facebook.