Teen 'Completely Humiliated' By Police Strip Search At Music Festival
A 16-year-old girl was left sobbing after she was allegedly told to squat naked and asked to remove her panty liner from her underwear during a police strip search at Splendour In The Grass.
The girl claimed she was told to strip naked and squat during a drug search at the 2018 music festival in Byron Bay.
No drugs were found during the search.
The teen alleged she was separated from her friends and strip-searched by a female officer without the presence of a parent, guardian or other person, a police action that is potentially in breach of NSW law.
On Monday the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission opened a four-day hearing to investigate the alleged incident, as part of Operation Brugge.
About 35,000 people attended Splendour In The Grass last year.
A large police contingent of about 340 officers was tasked to monitor the event. Their duties included keeping punters safe as well as targeting drug possession and sale.
Drugs were found in just 8.4 percent of strip searches at the festival, which saw more than 100 carried out, according to evidence provided by Counsel Assisting the Commission, Peggy Dwyer.
Dwyer read out a statement from the 16-year-old girl, who is expected to provide evidence herself later in a closed setting to preserve her privacy.
She is referred to during the hearing as 'BRC'.
The girl claimed she was identified by a sniffer dog while lining up to enter the festival on day one of the three-day event. From there she claimed she was taken to a private area to be searched.
Dwyer referred to the incident as a “false positive”, with no drugs found during the search.
“I was really scared because I did not have any drugs on me and I was completely alone,” the girl said of the alleged incident.
She said she was “frightened” and started to cry as the search progressed.
She said she was told to remove her denim jacket and shorts, which were searched before the female officer told her to remove her lace leotard and underwear.
“At that point, I realised I was going to have to get naked in front of this police officer. I could not believe that this was happening to me. I could not stop crying,” the girl said, claiming she was “completely humiliated” by the alleged ordeal.
The girl claimed the officer told her to remove a panty liner from her underwear so it could be examined.
The girl said she was then told to squat, as the officer also squatted and “looked underneath”.
Dwyer detailed that under the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act, a strip search of a person under 18 must only be conducted in the presence of the person’s parent or guardian, or another person capable of representing the young person’s interests.
She claimed police were aware of the girl’s age during the Splendour search, having been provided with her driver’s license, but did not make efforts to contact her parents, nor to have another person present during the search.
The process took approximately 10 minutes. The girl then reunited with her friends, saying she was “extremely upset” by what had allegedly occurred.
The group sought out a free legal stall inside the festival grounds to report the incident.
Dwyer said the girl was “sobbing uncontrollably” and her friends were distressed, and that it took some time for the girl to compose herself and make a complaint.
“I feel I can no longer trust police,” Dwyer indicated the girl said in her statement, adding that she would “have difficulty” reporting future incidents if they were to occur.
During the rest of the three-day festival, the girl claimed she felt “anxious” and “clammy and hot” when she saw police again.
A chief inspector with the Tweed-Byron police region who was involved in planning police operations at the festival, known as BR1, admitted that, after hearing the girl’s version of events, “it doesn’t sound good”.
When asked whether police would be justified in strip-searching a 16-year-old girl who denied carrying drugs and did not show signs of intoxication, BR1 replied: “Would I do it? Probably not”.
The officer also responded: “I don’t know”, when asked what would justify the “urgent” need for a strip search to be carried out, as required under the relevant legislation.
The LECC will hear from further Tweed-Byron area police in coming days.