Strawberry Fields Festival: dozens of arrests made, drug-drivers caught by police

Deniliquin police made more than 100 arrests at Strawberry Fields festival at Tocumwal at the weekend. Picture: Deniliquin LAC/Facebook
Deniliquin police made more than 100 arrests at Strawberry Fields festival at Tocumwal at the weekend. Picture: Deniliquin LAC/Facebook

More than 100 arrests were made, dozens of charges laid and a series of overdoses treated after a police blitz on a bush doof at Tocumwal at the weekend.

Almost 60 people were caught driving with drugs in their system on the NSW side of the border alone after the Strawberry Fields festival, which ran from Thursday to Monday.

More than 6500 people descended on the border town for the annual festival, a music and arts celebration held every November.

They didn’t all come empty-handed though, with police sniffer dogs helping their handlers uncover more than 90 drug detections.

Police from the Deniliquin Local Area Command (LAC) were joined by their counterparts from NSW Police’s highway patrol, dog unit, random drug testing unit and officers from neighbouring Wagga LAC.

The drugs seized by police included cannabis, ecstasy, crystal methylamphetamine, ketamine, magic mushrooms and GHB.

Police have already laid 65 charges after 102 arrests, and 58 people were arrested for driving under the influence of an illicit drug.

“More charges are expected in coming weeks,” Inspector Jy Brown from Deniliquin LAC said in a statement.

“Across the weekend,1103 persons were breath and drug tested. This equates to 1 in 19 drivers tested, driving under the influence of an illicit drug.”

Despite the number of arrests made, including three for resisting arrest and drug possession, police were pleased with the behaviour of those inside the festival “considering the numbers in attendance”.

“We will continue to work with the festival organisers to promote change into the future, but do not condone the use of illegal drugs and will continue to target this event. We do acknowledge however the committee is working hard to make the event safer.”

Inspector Brown said police only had to intervene in a small number of incidents on-site, including assisting treat drug overdoses.

Police received reports of six patrons being treated for overdose at the festival while three more were taken off-site to medical facilities.

The festival went ahead despite one resident threatening to take the event to the NSW Land and Environment Court back in September.

In April, a retired nurse asked Berrigan councillors whether it’s appropriate they support a music festival “shown to be a venue where drugs are consumed/inhaled?”.

At the time, Strawberry Fields event director Billy Staughton defended the approach taken to drug and alcohol use.

He said 1500 tests for drugs and alcohol were conducted on the private property hosting the festival last year, in addition to roadside stops by NSW and Victoria police.

He said organisers paid for a NSW police presence on the festival grounds, had St John’s ambulance personnel on-site and a doctor.