A woman has claimed that she was subject to an illegal strip search at Knockout festival on Saturday.
Brooke Hayden, a 27-year-old from Western Sydney, alleges that she was “felt all over” and made to squat and cough, despite this being illegal in NSW strip searches.
Speaking about the day, Hayden said she was very excited for the festival.
Now, she says she’s terrified to attend Sydney events.
“It’s made me never want to go to an event in Sydney ever again. Until they bring in the pill testing, and people are no longer being harassed by dogs and officers, I will no longer go to an event in Sydney,” she said.
“I don’t want that harassment.
“It was a horrible experience, I definitely don’t want to go through it again.”
Hayden alleges that when she arrived at the festival she was pulled out of the crowd by a police officer who said that a sniffer dog indicated she was carrying illicit substances.
After being patted down and telling the male officer that she didn’t have anything on her, she said two other male officers came and stood on each side of her.
After saying she didn’t have anything on her, she said she threw her bag down in frustration, saying: “Well look at all my stuff, there’s nothing in there.”
“Then the officers, one grabbed me by one arm and the other grabbed me by another arm and they both like … themselves into me so I wouldn’t run away,” she said.
She said she was then taken to a sectioned off area where she consented to a strip search conducted by two female officers.
“The only reason why I consented to it is because I knew full well I wasn’t in the wrong,” she told news.com.au.
“I was like, ‘They’re going to strip search me, they’re going to see that I don’t have anything on me, and they’re going to let me back into the event, everything’s gonna be okay.’”
After having to take all her clothes off, she was instructed to put her hands up against the wall.
She was also informed that she was being recorded.
One of the officers – without wearing gloves – then proceeded to touch Hayden’s breasts and touch up and down her whole body.
“No one really wants to be felt up by a police officer,” Hayden said.
She added that the second officer, who was wearing gloves, then slid her hands up her leg and felt between her legs.
“When her hand slid up it was like a really quick, just a finger tip, but she didn’t get her fingers right up there.
“Fingers were definitely in that area and that was definitely enough.”
She claimed she was also made to squat and cough, which NSW Police aren’t allowed to ask of people during a strip search.
“It was honestly disgusting, having someone’s hands all over me,” she said.
Sam Lee, a Redfern Legal Senior Solicitor specialising in Police Powers and Administrative Law, explained that officers aren’t allowed to touch people at all during a strip search.
“A strip search under the law is a visual inspection only. Any touching would constitute an assault by NSW police,” she told news.com.au.
Explaining further, she said that police aren’t allowed to search a cavity, which includes making someone squat or cough.
While police can ask someone to lift up their breast, no touching should take place.
When approached by news.com.au on the matter, a NSW Police spokesman said:
“Any time a police officer executes their search powers, they must have the state of mind required by Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibility) Act (LEPRA).
“The legislation contains safeguards to preserve the privacy and dignity of members of the public.
“If a person wishes to make a complaint about the NSW Police Force or its employees, it can be made in writing to the Commissioner of Police or the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC).”
Division 4 of LEPRA outlines how a strip search should and shouldn’t be conducted.
The section does state that officers “must not” touch a person or search body cavities.
“A strip search must not involve a search of a person’s body cavities or an examination of the body by touch.”
The claims come a week after a report found that NSW Police aren’t abiding by strip search procedures.
The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s report found that only 27 per cent of strip searches suggested that police had followed the rules around protecting privacy and dignity.
It also found that 28 per cent of NSW Police officers hadn’t completed a mandatory Music Festivals Fundamentals training module, while a further 25 per cent completed it outside the required time frame.
Additionally, parliament documents shared by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann revealed that 71 per cent of searches indicated by a sniffer dog between January and June 30 this year found no illicit substances.
Last year, sniffer dogs were wrong 75 per cent of the time.
In response to the LECC inquiry, Ms Lee said that it’s not good enough.
“Strip searches are an invasive and harmful procedure and a child as young as ten can be legally subject to a strip search,” she told news.com.au.
“It’s time to change this harmful practice by changing the law and creating better protections for young people and children.”
While police officers didn’t find anything during Hayden’s strip search, she was still kicked out of the event.
She said the reason given to her was that she looked like she’d been drinking and taking drugs.
While she admitted she’d had a few drinks and had taken a drug before arriving at the festival, she said another officer cited a very different reason for why she wasn’t let back into the event.
“He [the officer] goes ‘If it was me, I would still let you in … the reason why you’re not getting let in is because you threw your bag down’,” she said.
“’If it was me, you’d be in because I know you don’t have anything on you,’” the officer allegedly added.
Hayden hopes to encourage others who have had similar experiences to speak up.
“I want those who have experienced something like this to talk about it and let them know that it’s okay for them to talk about this … it’s honestly f***ed up,” she said.
For those concerned about undergoing strip searches, Ms Lee said that there’s a few things festivalgoers can do.
“It’s very difficult to speak up to police. The best a person can do is ask the officer to turn on their body worn video footage then ask the reason they are being searched and tell the officer ‘I do not consent to the search,’” she explained.
“Afterwards you should write everything down, tell a friend or parent to get some support and come and see someone like a lawyer at Redfern Legal Centre or another legal service.”