A police raid that closed down a weekend dance party on private land near Coffs Harbour was an over-reaction according to organisers.
The event, at Ebor, was closed down in its early stages on Saturday afternoon when just over 150 people had arrived and were in the process of setting up camp.
It was organised by Rabbits Eat Lettuce and was intended as a launch event for a much larger Easter party in the Richmond Valley.
The Rabbits Eat Lettuce (REL) electronic dance music parties have been running for around six years and are attended by up to 1500 people. Last year’s event ran without incident near Casino.
Police said they were called to the party because, NSW Forestry, which owns land on the Styx River adjoining the event site, expressed concerns there were illegal campsites, cars and portaloos in the forest.
Coffs Harbour Shire Council had attempted to have the party stopped by the Land and Environment Court on Friday afternoon but organisers told them they had the wrong site.
Police said they attempted to speak with the event organisers at the site but were ‘denied entry and shown a handwritten note allegedly granting permission to hold the event from the land owner’.
‘As police and forestry rangers began to clear the forestry land, organisers of the party moved all persons there onto the adjacent private property, telling partygoers that police could not stop them from holding the event,’ a police media spokesperson said.
But police say they managed to persuade the landowner to revoke permission for the event and then went about disbanding it.
‘About 5.30pm, police issued demands to the organisers and patrons to shut down the party. When this did not occur, police cut open locked gates to gain entry and shut down the event without further incident,’ the spokesperson added.
‘Senior police also authorised the use of a roadblock to turn around a large number of people attempting to attend the event.’
Just one person was charged over the raid, for trespass. There were no drug arrests.
REL organiser Erik Lamir says that police had got it wrong and the coming Easter event will be fully approved.
‘It was definitely an over-reaction to send 50 police out into the forest to stop people dancing,’ told ABC radio this morning.
‘They had sniffer dogs but they didn’t find any drugs at all, they didn’t make any arrests as far as I’m aware. So what were they doing? They were stopping people dancing.
Coffs/Clarence Local Area Command crime manager, detective inspector Darren Jameson said ‘with the number of recent tragic deaths and overdoses resulting from illicit drug use at these types of events, I cannot stress enough that prohibited drugs are not only illegal, but are highly dangerous and potentially life-threatening’.
‘We are very happy to provide support to organisers who want to hold events in the area, but only if they seek appropriate approvals and do not put the community at risk.’
But Mr Lamir said there were paramedics and security on site and no one was in any danger.
Police have gone further and warned people to be wary of buying tickets for the main Easter event, which has yet to be approved by Richmond Valley Council.
But Mr Lamir says REL has a good relationship with Richmond Valley Council, has held events there with council approval and expects that will be the case again.
‘If in the event the approval doesn’t come through we’ll just issue full refunds but… we’ve got our emergency plans in place, we’ve got a professional team to run the event so I don’t think there’s going to be a problem,’ Mr Lamir said.