NSW’s police chief has withdrawn comments made under oath after acknowledging his lawyer always knew the identity of a so-called “mystery witness” who gave evidence at a music festival deaths inquest.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told a parliamentary hearing on August 29 he thought it was “a disgrace in a democracy” for him to be questioned about a police officer allegedly saying she’d make a female festival patron’s strip search “nice and slow”.
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He claimed the woman giving the account to the NSW music festival inquest did so anonymously.
“It was a secret witness. Why did they keep this person secret?” he said.
Not so secret
But as the inquest resumed on Tuesday, counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer said Mr Fuller had sought to correct his statements after discovering her identity was known to his legal representative at the inquest.
“She was giving evidence about the death of Nathan Tran and in giving her answers, she rather spontaneously revealed she didn’t go to festivals any more (because of the strip search incident),” Dr Dwyer told the NSW Coroners Court.
“Unfortunately, the police commissioner misunderstood the circumstances of that evidence.
“(Mr Fuller’s comments) raised concerns that it could undermine the integrity of the inquest.”
‘If you don’t tell me where the drugs are, I’m going to make this nice and slow.’
The patron tearfully told the inquest in July she repeatedly told a police officer she didn’t have drugs on her before the officer responded: “If you don’t tell me where the drugs are, I’m going to make this nice and slow.”
Dr Dwyer said the barrister representing the police commissioner at the inquest had the witness’ name, her “non-existent” criminal history and the opportunity to cross-examine her on her account.
All five festival patrons who have given evidence to the inquest cannot be publicly identified.
Mr Fuller had claimed police were not given any information about the witness and that his lawyer was given no warning she was giving evidence.
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“It is poor practice if this is going to be the way forward in coronials that mystery witnesses turn up and they are hidden behind the veil of anonymity and then I am held to account for that,” he said on August 29.
“It is a disgrace in a democracy to be honest with you, particularly when in NSW, there is very effective oversight when this matter could have been appropriately dealt with.”
Deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame said she was grateful the issue had been resolved quickly.
Her inquest on Tuesday also heard from David Caldicott, a Canberra emergency doctor who oversaw Australia’s only two legal pill-testing trials to date – in Canberra in 2018 and 2019.
Dr Caldicott said he’d like to see Australia adopt The Netherlands’ community-based drug-checking system.
But he said it could be more than a decade away as Australia’s attitude towards drug consumption must shift from morality to health.
He declined to paint drug checking as a “silver bullet” but said it would be “probably beneficial” and a way to monitor a presently unmonitored market.
The inquest is examining the deaths of Mr Tran, Alex Ross-King, Diana Nguyen, Joseph Pham, Joshua Tam and Callum Brosnan, who died after taking MDMA capsules at or shortly before attending NSW festivals between December 2017 and January 2019.