Listen Out Music Festival
Listen Out Music Festival

Festivals inquest recommends end to police drug operations

STATE coroner Harriet Grahame is set to recommend a dramatic reduction of police drug operations and the introduction of pill testing at music festivals.

The Daily Telegraph understands the coroner has also called for the scrapping of police body searches and sniffer dogs in a draft report following an inquest into six music festival drug deaths.

The politically explosive suggestions puts the Coroner on a collision course with the state government which has previously ruled out pill testing and rejected claims festivals are over-policed.

Senior NSW cops and government ministers are set to oppose Ms Grahame's recommendations and were stunned at the extent to which they would reduce police presence and powers at festivals.

"You might as well legalise drugs at festivals from what is contained in the ­report,'' one source said.

Less body searches and no more sniffer dogs are two of the controversial recommendations made by the coroner. Picture: Damian Shaw
Less body searches and no more sniffer dogs are two of the controversial recommendations made by the coroner. Picture: Damian Shaw


Another source said the government's stance against pill testing was well established and the coroner's report would not change that.

The recommendations are among more than 40 in the draft sent last week to the NSW Department of Health and shared with the NSW Police Department. It comes after Ms Grahame examined the deaths of six young people at music festivals from December 2017 to January 2019.

 

State coroner Harriet Grahame (centre) attends a pill testing demonstration held at Splendour in the Grass in northern NSW. Picture: Regi Varghese
State coroner Harriet Grahame (centre) attends a pill testing demonstration held at Splendour in the Grass in northern NSW. Picture: Regi Varghese

A spokesman for the NSW coroner's office said: "The findings will be handed down on 8 November 2019. The recommendations have not been finalised.''

During the inquest, Ms Grahame (pictured) attended two festivals, including the Show Your True Colours festival, to witness first-hand police activity and other procedures at the events.

"It made me feel nervous," she said. "There were lines and lines of police and dogs. I was surprised at how intense it was."

Alex Ross-King.
Alex Ross-King.

The court heard from ­experts, medical staff and police about the deaths of Alex Ross-King, 19, Joshua Tam, 22, Callum Brosnan, 21, Diana Nguyen, 21, Joseph Pham, 23, and Nathan Tran, 18, at various festivals.

Psychologist Dr Stephen Bright told the inquest that a heavy police presence should be taken into account as possibly contributing to the deaths.

Joshua Tam.
Joshua Tam.

A number of other experts believed pill testing would help reduce the chances of deaths.

But a report tendered to the inquest by forensic psychiatrist Dr Russ Scott said there was no evidence pill testing reduced drug taking, but it could actually have the opposite effect.

"The proposed rollout of formalised testing which purports to make pill taking at music festivals 'safer' may have the unintended effect of further contributing to the 'normalisation' of the use of potentially 'party' drugs or 'recreational' drugs in Australia," Dr Scott said.

Tony Wood, whose daughter Anna was 15 when she died from a reaction to an ecstasy tablet in 1995, said: "Any relaxation of police presence and pill testing will send the wrong message to young people.

"My recommendation to the coroner is to listen to the police and others that are against pill testing."

 

Callum Brosnan.
Callum Brosnan.
Diana Nguyen.
Diana Nguyen.
Joseph Pham.
Joseph Pham.


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