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‘It should be spelled out’: Senior NSW Police officer says strip-search laws too vague

In another incident a police officer allegedly touched a teenage boy’s testicles and ran his hands over his buttocks, while in another, the boy was told to “squat and cough”.

“I felt like I just done something wrong but like, I’m just trying to go to a music festival,” one of the teenagers later told investigators.

Police can only carry out field strip-searches on a minor if a parent, guardian or other appropriate support person is present, but the inquiry heard that was not the case with the three boys, aged 15 to 17, who were among 30 children strip searched. Only five of  those were recorded as being accompanied by an independent person.

Dr Dwyer said the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s analysts found about nine other examples in police records indicating a strip-search was completed but was not identified as one.

One officer whose job was to help plan the police operation at the under-age event said he thought the same requirements under the police powers legislation applied to both children and adults.

The Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 also dictates police can only conduct field strip-searches if the urgency and seriousness of the situation requires it, but Mr Adams said “there’s nothing that gives a hint about what that might mean”.

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The chief inspector, who told the inquiry he had worked at more than 20 festivals, many as either the event or drug-dog commander, responded: “It should be spelled out what seriousness and urgency is, because I’m sure everyone in this room would have a different opinion.”

Members of the legal community have previously complained about the ambiguity of strip-search legislation, while an internal police report revealed by the Herald earlier this year raised concerns individual officers were being left to interpret the law.

The commission heard in October that a 16-year-old girl was stripped searched at last year’s Splendour in the Grass without a support person present.

On Monday, Dr Dwyer said the independent support person provided to a 13-year-old girl being strip searched at Lost City was herself a 17-year-old girl from the Red Frog charity.

The inquiry heard two State Emergency Services volunteers were also designated to act as independent adults because they were “members of a very reputable organisation”.

Mr Adams said the role of the independent support person was “a real issue that has never been adequately faced or looked at in a corporate sense”.

The chief inspector officer agreed, saying he hadn’t been able to find guidelines in standard operating procedures.

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