The never-ending war against inanimate objects – in this case drugs – was highlighted recently with police dog operations targeting children as they entered both Murwillumbah and Mullumbimby high schools.
Subsequently, The Echo sought to examine the warrants used and to raise awarness about your rights if a cute puppy attached to a policeman happens to sit down next to you.
Despite The Echo being denied access to view the school warrants, two other related warrants for Byron Bay and Murwillumbah streets and parks were made available.
It revealed that police were relying on previous drug detections and ‘suspicious activity’ for their application.
And it turns out the only drug that was detected in those operations appeared to be very small amounts of cannabis.
Dated July 30, 2014, both warrants viewed were submitted at the Murwillumbah Court House by Murwillumbah-based senior officer Jason McGinley.
The warrant application included an attached map of both Murwillumbah and Byron Bay, with requested search areas highlighted.
In the case of Murwillumbah, officer McGinley claimed that after information was obtained on the previous search operation, it resulted in ‘12 cannabis plants being seized during the operation within the CBD. No illegal drugs were located but numerous detections were indicated.’
This last sentence is interesting; despite detections being ‘indicated’, ‘no illegal drugs were located.’ It reinforces the finding of the NSW Ombudsman that such use of police resources is of questionable value.
Byron Bay’s warrant was slightly different, with the last operation resulting in ‘19 drug detections (cannabis)’ which resulted in cautions.
McGinley wrote, ‘Byron Bay has a high transitory population… [there is a] large volume of persons in possession and partaking in the consumption and supply of illegal drugs. Recent information received is that it is continuing… in the presence of holiday makers and families.’
So what oversight is there of police undertaking these types of operations?
While budgets and results are difficult to extract from police and politicians, a spokesperson for the NSW Department of Justice (DoJ) told The Echo that officers lodging warrants are required to do so under oath and there are penalties for giving false information. Under Search Warrants Act 1985, providing false or misleading material ‘in or in connection with an application for a warrant’ can attract a maximum penalty of ‘100 penalty units or imprisonment for two years, or both.’
Additionally the determination of whether to seal the warrant is the decision of the local courthouse clerk where the warrant is lodged, the DoJ spokesperson said.
But what about your rights if stopped and searched by police in public if you have not been arrested?
Kirsten Cameron from Legal Aid NSW pointed to a 2001 NSW court of criminal appeal ruling for R v Rondo which highlights ‘reasonable suspicion’. She told The Echo, ‘Despite considering a repealed section, [this case] still has weight in determining whether a search is lawful.’
From paragraph 53 it reads, ‘Reasonable suspicion is not arbitrary. Some factual basis for the suspicion must be shown. A suspicion may be based on hearsay material or materials which may be inadmissible in evidence. The materials must have some probative value.’
But conventional wisdom of course is to always be polite and offer your name and address if asked. And if arrested, there is a right to silence.
It’s your right to seek legal advice before talking as well.
If being stopped and searched, you are also permited to ask the officer’s name and which station they are from.
The website for Legal Aid NSW advises that police have the power to search you – and your car, boat or other vehicle and possessions – if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to suspect that you are carrying stolen goods or goods unlawfully obtained; prohibited drugs; an item that has been, or may be, used in a serious crime, for example tools to break into a car or house; knives, weapons or ‘dangerous implements’ and laser pointers.
Strip search rules
‘Police can pat you down, ask you to remove your outer clothing and shoes, look into your clothing and belongings and use an electronic metal detection device. They can also ask you to shake your hair and open your mouth.
‘Police can only perform a strip search if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that it is necessary and the circumstances are serious and urgent. They must provide you with as much privacy as possible.
‘As far as is practicable, the search must be carried out by a police officer of the same gender as the person being searched. In the case of a strip search it should be, as far as practicable, in a private area, out of sight of people of the opposite gender to you, out of sight of other people not involved in the search.
‘A strip search must not involve a search of a person’s body cavities or an examination of the body by touch.’
And remember, if you believe an officer has misused their powers, including being unreasonably intimidating, you can make a complaint.
This can be done by contacting the Ombudsman’s office (toll free) 1800 451 524.
More can be found at www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
The operator of Byron Bay’s La Playa restaurant/lounge bar (now called Soho) is refusing to leave the premises after he was given an eviction notice for unpaid rent.
In a bizarre twist of events, the bar’s owner John Cooper was in the building when locksmiths arrived to change the locks, and now he won’t leave.
He told The Echo that he has no intention of closing the door to lock himself out. ‘My rent is now paid up and was only 16 days late’, he says. ‘Due to the fact that I have invested $350,000 [in renovations] and have ongoing business and bookings there, I have remained in the building to continue to trade.’
The venue at 9 Fletcher St made news late last year when it was sold to strip club operators who opened there briefly but were denied a liquor licence.
Plans were subsequently scuttled by the Office of Gaming and Liquor (OGLR) after the mayor and community expressed outrage.
Meanwhile, a court case between Cooper and landlord Bill Bailey will be heard in a week, according to Mr Cooper. Mr Cooper has complaints about common area improvements, the lease change-over and delays to renovations required so he could re-open and trade.
Court case looming
He claims when he took over the lease three years ago, the building, ‘had been gutted and was in a severe state of disrepair’.
‘[After renovations] We began to wonder why we were been treated this way, especially after we had spent well in excess of $250,000 on renovating to a high standard. Mr Bailey was so pleased with the [renovation] work, that on several occasions he asked to parade members of his family and others through our premises commenting on what a fantastic job we had done.’
Mr Cooper also claims he only discovered much later after negotiations that the new tenants were planning to open a lap-dancing bar.
‘Even though this was not illegal, the town went crazy.’
He says it brought OLGR up from Sydney, who refused to transfer the liquor licence to the prospective couple, ‘as the town didn’t want it’.
‘OLGR insisted that we reopen as La Playa, and in return – providing I did a few alterations, ie extra soundproofing, and installed a noise limiter installation – we would be given a 3am music licence.’
Mr Bailey was asked for comment but was unavailable as he is currently overseas.
It is understood he wanted to evict Mr Cooper after three months of unpaid rent had accumulated, something which Mr Cooper denies. ‘I have improved the building and increased its internal floor area by 30 square metres, and the premises are now worth double the rent,’ said Mr Cooper.
Eviction notice ‘for $3,265’
He added that he invested such a large amount because he had signed a five by five by five (15) year lease. ‘I was served an eviction notice for the amount of $3,265.
‘It’s outrageous this landlord, who has watched his tenant put vast sums of money into his property, can get rid of them for such a small amount.’
A working group has formed after a recent meeting between Byron Bay’s stakeholders wanting to address alcohol-related crime. Held at Council’s chambers in Mullumbimby, it was chaired by mayor Simon Richardson and included representatives from Council, Byron United, Last Drinks at 12, VIA Byron, local police and hospitals, Byron Bay Liquor Accord, Byron Youth Service and Save our Night Life.
Byron’s chamber of commerce (Byron United) president Paul Waters said the forum was a recommendation by his board to bring all stakeholders together and ‘begin a process by taking into account everyone’s position in the community.’
‘It was very clear that we all want the same result, and it’s also clear that more needs to be done on the streets where most of the trouble occurs.’ Additionally he’s calling all CBD businesses to light up the streets and back lanes around their businesses and to install their own CCTV around their businesses.
‘I also urge Council and state government to commit the resources that will make our streets safer.’
Mayor Simon Richardson told The Echo, ‘We all agreed we need to create a working group to develop a whole-of-town response, rather than fighting over individual aspects, eg opening/closing hours, lighting, CCTV, activation of laneways, diversifying the demographics etc.
‘Instead, we need to consider all of [the issues] in a strategic and considered manner.
‘Cr Paul Spooner has put a notice of motion to Council outlining this.
‘It may be slower and more “committee-ish” than many want, but it is the only way to take the discussion away from a self-interested, black- and-white view currently shaping the debate.’
When asked if Council is close to receiving state and federal funding to improve lighting and CCTV, he told The Echo Council was, ‘not really any closer at the moment, but staff and I are still working on it.’