A solicitor who offered free legal advice to revellers at a NSW music festival says she noticed a change in policing in recent years which has created an “us and them” mentality.
Tracey Randall told an inquiry on Thursday a sobbing 16-year-old girl was left extremely distressed after a strip-search at the Splendour in the Grass festival Bay in mid-2018.
The teenager had approached her advice stall near the police search area along with two or three friends after the episode.
The NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission is looking into a complaint the teen was unlawfully searched without a support person present after a false positive detection by a sniffer dog.
Ms Randall, who has been a solicitor for 25 years, said when initially speaking to the girl her maternal instinct kicked in and she was “acting more like a mother than a lawyer”.
“She was crying to such a degree that it took quite a long time for me to actually be able to settle her down and find out what happened,” the lawyer told the inquiry hearing in Sydney.
Ms Randall said she had volunteered at the festival since 2012 and the crowd generally included parents with young children. Her own 16-year-old son attended in 2018.
She told the commission she set up a stall after reading media reports that police were not happy that the festival was returning to Byron Bay after a number of years away from the area.
“In the past two years – 2018 and 2019 – there was a definite shift in the style of policing at the festival,” she told the commission.
She said officers had moved outside the gates of the festival and stallholders complained police had adopted something of a “military-style” presence.
Ms Randall counted 26 officers at the front gates on a number of occasions.
“It creates an ‘us and them’ mentality – that’s what stallholders felt,” she said.
“It signals very clearly to patrons that the police take a certain position and patrons are effectively not part of that position.”
Speaking after the hearing, Ms Randall told reporters the “incredibly invasive” process of strip-searching had become all too common.
“It’s almost become at festivals common practice that this is just something you’ll have to endure and I don’t think that’s right,” she said.
Asked what she wanted to come out of the inquiry, she said: “I hope the community reflects on whether we want this practice to continue.”
The commission has adjourned with possible future hearings to be held behind closed doors.