Steven Attalla, 55, doesn’t go to music festivals, and his opinions are likely to differ from those who do when it comes to topics like pill testing and taking illicit drugs.

Nonetheless, police believed The Rocks businessman was packing something illegal when they confronted him sitting alone on a wall in Darlinghurst, smoking a cigarette and texting a friend in the early hours of one morning in 2015.

Back then he couldn’t have known he would be sharing a similar experience with many festivalgoers when he was made to strip naked and squat, in an ordeal he and the NSW Police watchdog would later liken to being sexually abused.

“I always believed that police were there to protect and help the public,” Mr Attalla told The Sun-Herald in this first interview since being unlawfully strip-searched in the bowels of Kings Cross police station.

He sued the NSW government and was awarded more than $112,000 in damages. Police used his case as a cautionary tale over officers breaching their powers in an internal report.

Despite his vindication, Mr Attalla said the experience left him rattled and caused him to question the culture of NSW law enforcement, who he said needed greater training regarding the use of their powers and to be made aware of the psychological effects strip searching has on people.

“It took me four or five years for me to come to grips with this,” he said, branding as “disgraceful” and “reckless” Police Minister David Elliott’s claim last month that he would want own underage sons strip-searched if police “felt they were at risk of doing something wrong”.

“I know these types of experiences ruin people,” Mr Attalla said.

In his 2018 judgment, NSW District Court judge Phillip Taylor one of the officers in Mr Attalla’s case “admitted a lack of familiarity” with relevant legislation, a notion since echoed during two public inquiries into claims of police illegally strip searching children at music festivals.

Last week Law Enforcement Conduct Commission head Michael Adams, QC, said the oversight body would examine the parallels between child sexual abuse and strip searching minors, in sentiments echoed by Mr Attalla.

“When one is dealing with a subject such as strip searching of young people, the inevitable sexual content of such events cannot be overlooked,” Mr Adams said.

In response to his comments a NSW Police spokesperson said the organisation understood the importance of the inquiry.

“As an organisation with extraordinary powers, we understand the need to closely monitor and regularly review the use of search powers,” the spokesperson said.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has defended strip searching festival patrons but acknowledged the “stress” the procedure can cause in a recent ABC radio interview. NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman described strip searches last week as “potentially very traumatising”.

In speaking out Mr Attalla said he was somewhat hesitant about being associated with festival culture and as a mistaken advocate for drug reform: “I’m not in favour of anything that’s not lawful, but I am in favour of people’s rights.”

“When the law is working, it’s poetry. If the law is working correctly, it protects everybody,” Mr Attalla said.


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