“I am of the firm view there is sound evidence that high visibility policing and use of drug detection dogs at music festivals is harmful,” Ms Grahame said.
“I am of the firm view there is sound evidence that high visibility policing and use of drug detection dogs at music festivals is harmful,” Ms Grahame said.

‘Premier, please listen to the evidence’

THE state's deputy coroner has bid the Berejiklian government to look with "fresh eyes" on the dangers of drug use at music festivals in a much-anticipated report following an inquest into the deaths of six young people at NSW music festivals.

Harriet Grahame has released a raft of recommendations which include controversially calling for the introduction of pill-testing at music festivals - with a pilot starting this coming summer - scrapping the use of sniffer dogs at events which can "precipitate panic ingestion or dangerous pre-loading" and decriminalising the personal use of illicit drugs.

"I am of the firm view there is sound evidence that high visibility policing and use of drug detection dogs at music festivals is harmful," Ms Grahame said while handing down the report this morning.

Magistrate Harriet Grahame at the Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court Complex in Sydney. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Daily Telegraph
Magistrate Harriet Grahame at the Forensic Medicine and Coroners Court Complex in Sydney. Picture: Tracey Nearmy/Daily Telegraph

She has also called for new police guidelines to be issued limiting strip searches at music festivals to people suspected of supplying illicit drugs - rather than those who possess them for personal use - unless there is an "immediate risk" to a reveller's personal safety.

"The wholesale practice of strip searching young people for the possible offence of possession is of grave concern," Ms Grahame said.

The Daily Telegraph previewed some of the findings last month after obtaining a copy of Ms Grahame's draft report.

They were officially released today after Ms Grahame investigated the deaths of six music festival revellers from December 2017 to January 2019.

The NSW Coroner's 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.

Alex Ross-King.
Alex Ross-King.

Ms Grahame said she had "no doubt whatsoever" there is "sufficient evidence to support a drug checking trial" in NSW both at music festivals and in the community.

"In my view the evidence is compelling," she said.

"Of course drug checking is not a magic solution to these tragic deaths … its introduction will not guarantee further deaths will not occur."

"Drug checking is simply an evidence-based harm reduction strategy that should be trialled as soon as possible in NSW."

This is at odds with the position of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who again ruled out the prospect of introducing pill testing after the draft report was leaked amid fears it gives revellers a false sense of security.

Hoang Nathan Tran. Picture: AAP Image/Supplied
Hoang Nathan Tran. Picture: AAP Image/Supplied

Instead, the state government has introduced legislation to parliament to reinstate a festival safety system requiring events deemed "high-risk" to prepare a safety management plan to minimise the risk to revellers.

The strict safety scheme was scheme was thrown out by Labor, the Shooters and the Greens in the upper house on the eve of the summer festival season in late September.

Jen Ross-King, who lost her daughter Alex to a drug overdose after ingesting almost three MDMA doses before entering the FOMO festival in January, begged Ms Berejiklian to "please listen to the evidence".

"Someone else's child is not going to come home and I don't want that for anybody," she said.

Joseph Pham pictured with Jasmine Duong. Picture: Facebook
Joseph Pham pictured with Jasmine Duong. Picture: Facebook

"Nobody should ever, ever have to go through what we have gone through here and what we are going to spend the rest of our lives going through."

Opposition leader Jodi McKay has said she would be open to a "limited, controlled and medically-supervised" pill-testing trial where there was a focus on education and no reduction in law enforcement.

Ms Grahame also offered her condolences to the six victims and their families, saying each death was "completely unexpected and profoundly tragic".

"(They) were gifted, vibrant, well-connected and very much loved," she said.

Ms Grahame said the evidence drew into "clear focus" the need for the state government to "look with fresh eyes at the potential dangers associated with drug use at music festivals".

Parents of the children who died at music festivals outside the Coroners Court after the inquest findings were delivered. Left to right: John Tam, Mathew King, Julie Tam, Andrew Murphy, Jennie Ross-King, Cornelius Brosnan. Picture: John Grainger
Parents of the children who died at music festivals outside the Coroners Court after the inquest findings were delivered. Left to right: John Tam, Mathew King, Julie Tam, Andrew Murphy, Jennie Ross-King, Cornelius Brosnan. Picture: John Grainger

"There is a need to reframe our main priority from reducing drug use to reducing drug death," she said.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said in a statement the deaths were "tragic" but strongly refuted any suggestion police were responsible.

"It is truly tragic for these and many other young lives to have been cut short due to drugs, however any suggestion police were implicit in these deaths will be strongly defended by me," he said.

"The community cannot ignore the fact that music festivals create a concentrated market for drug supply and organised criminal groups.

Festival goers walk past Police sniffer dogs inside the Fomo Music Festival at Parramatta Park. Picture: David Swift.
Festival goers walk past Police sniffer dogs inside the Fomo Music Festival at Parramatta Park. Picture: David Swift.

"The personal use of illicit drugs is a significant health and social issue, and I have always been in support of harm minimisation strategies, especially education as the first and most important step in this cycle."

Former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer, who raised concerns about the efficacy of the current policing strategy at the inquest, said: "We can't police our way out of this problem".

"I'd encourage the Premier to look at these recommendations with a clean mind," he said.

"I would say as a final plea - it's OK to change your mind."

 

Josh Tam.
Josh Tam.
Diana Nguyen. Picture: Facebook
Diana Nguyen. Picture: Facebook
Callum Brosnan. Picture: Facebook
Callum Brosnan. Picture: Facebook


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