Australia

'Nice and slow': Festival goer tells drug inquest of harrowing strip search experience

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A woman strip-searched at a Sydney music festival says a police officer ordered she reveal where her drugs were hidden or the search would be "nice and slow".

A police officer allegedly warned she'd make a strip search "nice and slow" if a Sydney music festival attendee didn't tell her where she was hiding drugs.

The patron, who cannot be identified, gave evidence on Thursday during the inquest into the deaths of six young people at NSW music festivals between December 2017 and January 2019. 

The woman tearfully told the inquest she was ushered into a room with a female police officer and declared she had no drugs on her.

"You're humiliated, you're naked, the way I was spoken to like I did something wrong," the 28-year-old, who said she rarely drank and never took illicit drugs, said.

She said "everyone was staring" as she was walked through the crowds by police after being informed the dog had detected drugs on her. 

Despite claiming she did not have any drugs, one police officer told her "the dogs are never wrong", the NSW Coroners Court at Lidcombe heard on Wednesday.

An inquest is investigating the drug-related deaths of six people at NSW music festivals.
An inquest is investigating the drug-related deaths of six people at NSW music festivals.
SBS

“I had to take my top off and my bra and I covered my boobs and she told me to put my hands up and then she told me to tell her where the drugs were and I told her I didn’t have any."

She then recounted the female officer telling her that she would make it "nice and slow" if she didn't tell her where the drugs were. 

After taking off her shorts and underwear, the woman said she was forced to squat and cough.

At one stage, she said, the door was left open while she was naked. 

A search of her bag returned her boyfriend's wallet, which the officer took.

"She opened the door while I was still naked and handed the wallet to someone else and made me stand there for a bit," she said.

The search uncovered no drugs and the woman was let into the festival.

She was strip-searched at another festival and again, no drugs were found.

The Knockout Circuz patron, who cannot be identified, also testified about the moment 18-year-old Nathan Tran collapsed following an adverse reaction to drugs in 2017.

Police sniffer dogs look for people carrying drugs during the V Festival at Centennial Park.
Police sniffer dogs look for people carrying drugs during the V Festival at Centennial Park.
AAP

She said she saw Mr Tran lose his balance and fall "face first" before being attended to by police.

Dr Christopher Cheeseman, from Westmead Hospital, headed the treatment of Mr Tran on 16 December in 2017 and also appeared at the inquest on Wednesday. 

The 18-year-old was in handcuffs when brought by about seven people into the festival's medical tent at about 10.30pm.

Mr Tran arrived at Westmead's emergency department at about 11.30pm experiencing hyperthermia with a core temperature of 41 degrees.

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Mr Cheeseman said he was told by ambulance staff that Mr Tran had been running from police and fallen, possibly experiencing a seizure, before he was detained.

Despite prolonged resuscitation efforts, he died from MDMA toxicity at 12.50am. Traces of a drug known as 'Dr Death' were found in his blood. 

Counsel assisting, Peggy Dwyer, on Wednesday asked Dr Cheeseman whether the "best case scenario" would be for doctors capable of paralysing and intubating drug-affected patients to be at the onsite medical tents.

"That system actually exists and, in subsequent festivals, the [NSW] Ministry of Health put in place disaster response teams," Dr Cheeseman replied.

He said patients similar to Mr Tran were identified rapidly by senior and experienced clinicians who were able to administer muscle relaxants and perform intubation to ease airway access.

"[That] in my opinion has been very, very effective in preventing further deaths," the doctor said.

Mr Cheeseman said he believes the teenager required early paralysis and the key intubation drug Rocuronium before it was administered at the hospital.

That is what can stop patients reaching Mr Tran's critically ill stage, he said, noting it would have been ideal for him to have been evacuated from the tent earlier.

"If he'd gotten to my department sooner we could have changed his course," he said.

Further witnesses will be called on Thursday to testify about Mr Tran's death.

Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame is examining the deaths of Mr Tran alongside Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Callum Brosnan, Joshua Tam and Alexandra Ross-King - all aged between 18 and 23 - who all died from MDMA toxicity or complications of MDMA use.

- With additional reporting from AAP

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