Police and Splendour in the Grass 2018.
Police and Splendour in the Grass 2018. Marc Stapelberg

Child strip search inquiry finds even more dodgy police work

A POLICE officer at last year's Splendour in the Grass music festival has defended the "humiliating" strip search of teenage girl, saying it was in line with training.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) is currently investigating the search on the 16-year-old girl, who was not carrying any drugs, at the Byron Bay festival in 2018 to see if police acted unlawfully, or whether their conduct amounted to serious misconduct.

The inquiry has heard the complainant, who says she was "humiliated" by the ordeal after being forced to strip naked and squat, was one of several children strip-searched at the event, potentially in breach of police powers.

On Wednesday, the LECC heard from a female officer, codenamed BR4, who was on duty at last year's Splendour festival and said "getting someone to squat" during a strip search was normal police procedure.

The inquiry heard that BR4 believed it to be regular police procedure, despite no handbook containing such information being in existence at the time of the festival in July 2018.

"That is how I've been trained to search and that's how I've always done it," BR4 told the inquiry. "That's always how it's been, that's how I've been trained to search a person."

The inquiry also heard of BR4's "sloppy" police paper work at the festival, especially related to a field arrest form of an unnamed festival-goer which stated a find of 0.4 grams of MDMA, but later appeared as 3.18 grams on a police fact sheet.

"I wouldn't have just pulled 3.18 grams out of nowhere, I can't recall exactly how I got that number," she told the court.

Chief Commissioner Michael Adams asked: "There's nothing in the relevant document that suggests 3.18 grams is there?"

"No there's not ... I can't explain that," the officer replied.

The inquiry, sitting in Sydney, also heard that BR4 incorrectly used the same drug exhibit number on three different entries related to drug finds at the festival, which it was suggested could have resulted from her "cutting and pasting" on the police computer system.

"It's a mistake," BR4 said. "It's quite easy to get a little bit muddled up."

Chief Commissioner Adams said the officer's work showed a "pattern of inattention" that involved "quite fundamental matters that directly involve the administration of justice".

For those caught with drugs at the festival, the inquiry was told BR4's errors could have "serious consequences" when going to court due to wrong drug analysis being done.

Ultimately, BR4's mistakes could follow festival patrons "around for the rest of their lives", the inquiry heard.

Another officer, codenamed BR5, denied that police automatically strip-searched festival-goers and said officers did not solely rely on indications from drug dogs.

He said the overall mission of police was safety of "every single person" at the festival, but conceded "being led away and being spoken to could be quite confronting".

He also "couldn't agree more" that strip searching a young person was an "extreme step".

The inquiry has previously heard that the complainant was one of several children strip-searched at the event without a "support person" present - a breach of police powers.

It has also been told that officers did not adequately consider the elements of "urgency" or "seriousness" under LEPRA powers, before conducting strip-searches.

Another officer, codenamed BR3, testified earlier this week that he carried out 19 strip-searches at the festival, but found drugs only once, which was a single tablet of diazepam.

The inquiry continues.