Strip-searches 'may have been unlawful'

Aine Fox

The vast majority of strip-searches carried out on teenagers at an underage Sydney music festival earlier this year were potentially unlawful, an inquiry has heard, with one boy claiming an officer put his hands inside his underwear.

Thirty young people were strip-searched at the Lost City festival at Sydney Olympic Park in February but only five had a guardian or support person present.

Such a requirement is mandatory under the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act for anyone aged between 10 and 18.

A Law Enforcement Conduct Commission hearing on Monday heard details of three teenage boys who were strip-searched at the event which is strictly for those aged 13 to 17.

None of them knew each other and none were found to be in possession of drugs.

Compulsory police paperwork filled out when strip-searches are conducted showed none of the trio had an adult present at the time, the inquiry was told.

A 15-year-old boy told LECC investigators he felt "pretty scared" when he was picked out for a search after a drug detection dog sniffed his pockets.

He had no drugs on him and was confused as to why he was being singled out.

"They (officers) were like grabbing me and then I was like pretty scared, I had no one there. Just two cops I have never seen before," he said.

The teenager "froze" when asked to drop his pants because he was unsure what to do.

He claimed an officer told him to "hold your d**k and lift your balls up and show me your gooch". The boy said he was shaking with nerves.

Another boy, who had just turned 17, said he was told to hold his genitals and "squat and cough" during a strip-search.

The teenager had been stopped after he was seen fiddling with his groin. He had carried a bumbag into the event in his underwear despite such items being banned.

Despite explaining to officers that he just wanted to be able to store his valuables in the bag so he could dance at the event, he was strip-searched anyway.

A third boy, aged 16, said an officer put his hands inside his underwear, making contact with his genitals and buttocks during the search.

The teen, who had also brought a bum bag into the event to carry his phone and wallet, was thrown out of the festival despite no drugs being found.

Police paperwork suggested he was suspected of possessing prohibited drugs and being involved in drug supply, a claim which the boy has denied.

The Sydney hearing, expected to last five days, is considering each of the three cases and the lawfulness and reasonableness of strip-search practices more generally.

The police commander overseeing the event said deaths at recent music festivals were at the "forefront" of officers' minds in the lead-up to Lost City.

He "absolutely" regarded it as important to have a support person present for strip-searches and agreed it was disappointing an adult was present in just five cases.

"There has been significant public interest in the issue of police powers to strip-search in the music festival environment and beyond," counsel assisting the commission Peggy Dwyer said.

Ms Dwyer told the hearing strip-searches were "stressful and potentially embarrassing" and could have a lasting negative effect.

The drug MDMA was located in nine of the 30 searches.

Meanwhile, NSW Police commissioner Mick Fuller on Monday described music festivals as being "like war zones".

"If your local pub or local RSL at midnight looked like a dance festival did, then there'd be an absolute outcry," he told News Corp Australia.