Volunteers hired to watch minors get strip-searched at a New South Wales music festival didn’t need to have working with children checks, according to a senior state police officer.
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, which is conducting ongoing hearings into the potentially illegal strip-search of minors at the under-18s Lost City festival in February, viewed a troubling email correspondence this week between the detective chief inspector and a State Emergency Services (SES) worker who’d asked about the issue of working with children checks.
“If they have those checks fine [but] they will be with police officers so it isn’t a deal-breaker,” the officer replied. Working with children checks function as a screening process for anyone working with minors, providing a detailed look at their criminal history and relevant professional conduct findings to ensure that children are protected from sexual or physical harm.
It was further found that SES volunteers, who were drafted to act as independent support people for minors at the event, may not have known they were there to watch strip-searches being conducted, The Guardian reported. One of those support people herself a minor, at just 17 years of age. And of the 30 strip-searches carried out on under-18 attendees that day, only five had a support person present at all—meaning the other 25 may have been illegal.
In one of those 25 cases, a 15-year-old boy was told to “hold your dick and lift your balls up and show me your gooch”, the inquiry heard this week. In another case a police officer “ran his hands around” the buttocks of a 17-year-old boy.
The Commission, which launched public hearings into these events on Monday, is investigating the strip-searches of three boys aged 15, 16, and 17—none of which uncovered any illegal substances—as well as the “general question” of how police exercise strip-search powers in NSW.
State laws stipulate that officers must conduct all strip-searches at a police station, unless the urgency and seriousness of the situation requires them to conduct it elsewhere. In the case of minors, a parent or guardian must also be present—although again, officers can forego this condition if they decide that an immediate search is urgent and necessary to prevent destruction of evidence.
A senior police officer who had worked on at least 20 music festivals admitted to the Commission on Monday that he believed the legislation was too vague in regard to what constituted “serious” and “urgent” circumstances.
“Why are we even speaking about ambiguity with the legislation? It shouldn’t even be there,” the officer said. “It should be spelt out what seriousness and urgency is, because I’m sure everyone in this room would have a different opinion.”
The latest details of potentially unlawful strip-searched follow in the wake of revelations last month that police performed strip-searches on more than 100 girls within the last three years, including two 12-year-olds and eight 13-year-olds. In response to those revelations, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller suggested that cutting back strip-searches would result in a "generation of kids that have no respect for authority."
“The reality is we need to be a police force and part of that is searching people — which doesn't make everyone happy — but people need to know there are consequences especially those who are criminals or on the verge of being criminals,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “They need to have respect and a little bit of fear for law enforcement.”