Australian music festival patrons have filed a class-action lawsuit against New South Wales police.
The lawyers for the group allege that police carried out unlawful strip searches at music festivals. That includes the Splendour in the Grass music festival over a six-year period. The class action was first revealed in May 2020 and follows a series of controversies surrounding the police’s use of strip-search powers.
The class-action centers on a claim from the lead plaintiff, Raya Meredith. Meredith alleges she was made to lift her breasts and show a police officer her genitals during a strip-search at the 2018 Splendour in the Grass Festival.
She describes the search as ‘degrading, scary, and confusing’ and police found no illegal drugs on her person. Lawyers allege police stopped her in 2018 with a drug-sniffing dog, telling her the dog ‘alerted’ to a scent on her.
Meredith was ordered to surrender her handbag and taken to a different area. Her lawyers allege people were entering and exiting the strip-search area as officers told her to remove her shoes and clothing. Once she did, she alleges she was “ordered to lift her breasts and bend over, and to show the officer her genitals to prove that the only item inserted in her body was a tampon.”
“She says that while she was naked from the waist down, a male officer returned with her handbag to the area she was being searched,” the complaint continues. Meredith says the strip search returned no results and took around 30 minutes but left a lasting impact. Plaintiffs allege people, including children, were told to strip naked, squat and cough, and lift or move their genitals for officers.
“Women were ordered to remove sanitary products so they too could be inspected,” the lawyers’ statement reads. “Group members are seeking damages, aggravated damages, and exemplary damages from the state. This could be in the order of tens of thousands of dollars for those subjected to particularly invasive or distressing searches.”
A 2019 report from The Guardian revealed that NSW police strip-searched more than 100 girls over the three previous years at music festivals. “With this class action, Redfern Legal Centre and Slater & Gordon are seeking compensation and redress for the significant numbers of people believed to have been unlawfully searched,” adds Samantha Lee, a senior police accountability solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre.