By JACKSON SIMON
Gladys Berejiklian’s government halted an inquiry into NSW Police strip-searching on 31 Dec by dismissing the commissioner of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) overseeing it, just a few weeks into the investigation. Last week the LECC conceded the inquiry is on permanent hiatus and unlikely to proceed any further.
Strip-searching by the NSW police force has received increasing publicity over the past few months after revelations children under 18 were being targeted and undressed without parental consent. The police, in an attempt to catch abusers of illegal substances as well as create a sense of respect, conducted the controversial strip-searches primarily at music festivals such as Splendour in the Grass and the under-18’s festival Lost City.
Officers use sniffer dogs to assist in the identification of drug abusers. If the dog indicates the presence of illegal substances, the individual is taken aside and asked to strip down in order for a search to be conducted. But the pattern shows that there is an exceedingly high amount of youths being investigated, few of whom are found to be carrying any illicit substances.
Due to claims of inappropriate strip-searches from the Lost City under-18 music festival last year, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) launched an inquiry on 2 Dec 2019 into NSW Police abusing its powers.
At the start of the inquiry, it was revealed that 30 strip searches of 3 females and 27 males were conducted on minors over the course of the Lost City festival weekend – approximately .03% of the total festival attendance. Only five of these body searches were conducted in the presence of a support person.
NSW law states that an individual may be searched if the “seriousness and urgency of the circumstances make the strip search necessary.” If a minor is searched, the individual must be accompanied by an adult or a support person.
In an interview with LECC investigators, a 15 year-old boy attending the festival conveyed that when in a room without an adult, he was told, “hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch.”
At the first hearing on 2 Dec, the council assisting the commission, Peggy Dwyer, stated that the boy was so nervous he was shaking. Officers found no illegal substances and he was allowed back into the festival.
Legality in question
Targeting children not only taints the NSW Police Force’s image, it calls into question the legality of their strip-searches and the leaders giving consent to execute them. Nevertheless, the commissioner of the inquiry, Michael Adams QC, was released from office on 31 Dec 2019 and replaced by Reginald Blanch AO QC, before it ground to a halt.
Some suspect that this was a desperate attempt to halt the inquiry and turn the spotlight away from the NSW Government’s much-criticised campaign to target drug users at music festivals.
When City Hub asked if there would be other hearings for the inquiry, the LECC replied that there are no fixed dates for further hearings and that the commission is “assessing what other evidence might be called.”
The LECC’s response confirms the official inquiry is on an indefinite hiatus, which generates suspicion about the motives behind stymieing the investigation: is it due to the NSW Government’s desire to continue strip-searches without legal supervision?
And are NSW authorities trying to protect police officers who might otherwise have faced prosecution for the illegal strip-searching of minors, had the inquiry recommended the laying of criminal charges?
Perhaps we won’t receive answers to these questions until an independent inquiry is launched.
City Hub‘s previous reporting on NSW Police strip-searching: http://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=strip-searches