'Why is this happening?': Boys told to touch genitals in festival searches


A police officer strip-searching a child at a Sydney under-age music festival this year told the boy to "hold your dick, lift your balls up and show me your gooch" in one of at least 25 potentially illegal searches on the day.

In another incident a police officer touched a teenage boy's testicles and ran his hands over his buttocks, while, in yet another, the support person provided to a 13-year-old girl being strip-searched was herself a 17-year-old girl from the Red Frog charity.

Three specific examples of boys aged between 15 to 17 being told to touch their genitalia at the Lost City music festival at Sydney Olympic Park on February 23 are being scrutinised in a NSW Police watchdog inquiry.

None of the boys was found to have any illegal drugs on them and each has denied having been in contact with drugs.

Police can only carry out field strip-searches if the urgency and seriousness of the situation requires it and, in the case of minors, if a parent or guardian is present, unless an immediate search is necessary to protect the person or prevent the destruction of evidence. Children under 10 cannot be strip-searched.

The senior NSW Police officer acting as the event commander at the event told the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) the number of attendees strip-searched was an "insignificant number" in the context of the 10,000-strong crowd at the festival.

"The risk of somebody bringing drugs into the event is very significant because it can lead to death," the officer, whose identity has been suppressed, said.

He said two State Emergency Services volunteers were designated to act as independent adults for children being strip-searched, saying they were "members of a very reputable organisation".

LECC chief commissioner Michael Adams, QC, replied, "Yes, but it's not part of their ordinary duties to watch naked young people be searched by police."

Counsel assisting the commissioner, Peggy Dwyer, said of the 30 minors strip-searched - three females and 27 males - just five had an appropriate adult recorded as being present. She said drugs were found in nine of the 30 searches, and all were MDMA.

She said a theme in the inquiry would be the "inadequacy" of paperwork, and that LECC analysts found about nine other narratives in police records from the day indicating a strip-search was completed but was not identified as such.

A 15-year-old boy who was strip-searched later told a watchdog investigator he was singled out by police after a sniffer dog approached him but didn't sit down.

"I felt like I just done something wrong but like, I’m just trying to go to a music festival," he said.

The inquiry heard a police officer took his phone, asked for the pass code and scrolled through the device without asking his permission to do so. He was then taken into a room where he was told to undress.

Dr Dwyer said the male officer told him to "hold your dick and lift your balls up, and show me your gooch [colloquial for the space between the testicles and anus]".

A 17-year-old boy searched after he was caught hiding a bum-bag in his pants "for the entirely innocent reason of being able to dance more freely" was told to "lift up his balls" and to "squat and cough", the commission heard.

"He did so, and then asked, 'Why is this happening?'" Dr Dwyer said.

Another boy, 16, corralled with a group suspected of being involved in a drug deal, was taken to a private area, told to pull down his shorts, "grab his penis and lift it up".

"The male officer inserted his hands inside [the boy's] underwear, and made contact with his testicles," Dr Dwyer said.

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