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‘Ground-breaking’ class action launched against NSW Police

Festival-goers who were unlawfully searched by NSW Police could be entitled to “substantial” compensation as part of a monumental class action case.

user iconLauren Croft 18 November 2021 Big Law
Splendour in the Grass
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Hundreds of Splendour in the Grass patrons who attended the Byron Bay music festival in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 are believed to have been wrongfully searched by NSW Police, a new class action has alleged.

The class action, currently being investigated by Redfern Legal Centre and Slater and Gordon Lawyers, could mean that those affected could win tens of thousands of dollars in compensation each in court.

Redfern Legal Centre’s principal solicitor Alexis Goodstone said unlawful searches by NSW Police were a systemic problem that urgently needed to be addressed.


“A class action is a legal means for a group of people to come together to call out an unlawful and damaging practice in a way that is easy to participate in because it is largely anonymous and risk-free,” she said.

“This ground-breaking class action will seek redress for the many people subjected to invasive and traumatic searches. We also hope this test case will pave the way for a series of cases focusing on other locations or music festivals, and importantly, help stop unlawful police searches in NSW.”

Some festival-goers searched by police – including people aged under 18 – were allegedly directed to lift or remove items of clothing, strip naked and squat and cough, or lift their genitals so officers could visually inspect body cavities.

Chad Helman attended Splendour in the Grass in 2016 and told Triple J’s Hack that police searched his shoes and pockets before taking him to a separate building to be strip-searched.

I didn’t actually have to take my shirt off at all, it was just straight ‘Take your pants off, turn around, bend over, and open up’,” he said.  

It felt like an invasion of my privacy, like my dignity was just gone for that moment in time, and I actually felt quite vulnerable. At no point in time was I given any rights or asked if I had consent to what they were doing.”

This news follows the release of reports last year from the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) that detailed widespread unlawful search practices by NSW Police. Slater and Gordon senior associate Dr Ebony Birchall said that the report revealed a lack of training for police – and that this class action was a chance for important steps around law reform to be taken.

“An unlawful police search is classified by law as an assault and gives rise to compensation. We believe that hundreds of people who were searched by police at Splendour may have been subject to unlawful searches and therefore may be entitled to compensation,” she said.

“We haven’t seen a class action in relation to unlawful strip searches in Australia ... so we think this is a really unique and important way to clarify strip search law, and to highlight this issue, and importantly, to get compensation for people who have been impacted by these unlawful searches.”