A police sniffer dog during Splendour In the Grass in Northern New South Wales, Saturday, July 20, 2019.
A police sniffer dog during Splendour In the Grass in Northern New South Wales, Saturday, July 20, 2019.

Numerous police ‘failings’ in strip-search of teen girl

THE lawyer for a girl who was strip-searched at Splendour in the Grass has said the matter highlighted "systematic failings" of police.

Lismore lawyer Tracey Randall represented a girl who was strip-searched at the 2018 festival after a police drug dog gave a positive detection.

The girl, 16 at the time, had no drugs in her possession at the festival's entry area.

A Law Enforcement Conduct Commission investigation has found the strip-search was unlawful, that police had "insufficient knowledge" of their legislative requirements, there were insufficient safeguards to ensure their compliance with those requirements and that measures taken to ensure patrons' privacy and dignity were inadequate.

Despite telling police she was a minor, the girl was unaware of her right to have a parent, guardian or support person present until she later spoke with Ms Randall.

Ms Randall said her client had been "reluctant" to make a complaint initially.

"I think she's quite buoyed by the findings in the report but she is also surprised at the number of failings by the police who searched her in terms of their requirements," Ms Randall said.

Ms Randall said she was hopeful the investigation would result in substantial changes but stressed this was "not an isolated case".

While there are legislative protections in place to prevent young people and adult from being searched without good reason, she said the measures were "subjective".

The Police Commissioner and six officers appeared at a public examination, held over four days in October last year.

Ms Randall's client, who was completing her HSC at the time, was later called to give evidence in a private examination.

According to the final LECC report, she'd told Ms Randall she felt "completely humiliated" by the process and felt "completely alone".

She only realised the extent of the search when they asked her to completely remove her clothes.

At no point did the officers involved identify themselves or ask if she had a parent, guardian or anyone available to be with her during the search.

Police conducted 143 strip-searches at the 2018 festival, 30 of them involving juveniles.

Only 8.4 per cent of those resulted in anything illegal being located.

There were "only 16 or 18" strip searches at the 2019 festival, the commission heard.

The commission found police breached four legislative areas at the 2018 festival but found it was not appropriate to make a finding of serious misconduct or to recommend any action against any officers.

Instead, the commission found it was "a more useful outcome" for NSW Police to consider a range of steps, including improved police education and greater guidance by senior police regarding when and how strip-searches should be conducted.

Some of the considerations have been addressed in changes already made since the 2018 festival.

The commission will further address the issue in an overarching report on strip-searching, expected later this year.

While the report indicated police had apologised to the girl, Ms Randall said this had not occurred.