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The Daily Telegraph - Home

Police deny responsibility for Gemma Thoms death at BDO

Article from: The Daily Telegraph

February 04, 2009 12:00am

THE West Australian Police Commissioner says police were not responsible for the death of teen Gemma Thoms, who allegedly swallowed ecstasy pills to avoid being caught with drugs.

Yesterday, police revealed sniffer dogs were not used at the entrance to the Big Day Out music festival where Miss Thoms reportedly swallowed several ecstasy tablets, mistakenly believing they would be detected by drug dogs.

Ms Thoms, a 17-year-old trainee hairdresser, died after collapsing in 36C heat at the festival, held at Perth's Claremont Showground on Sunday.

Her friends have told police that before entering the venue, she panicked and swallowed three ecstasy tablets she was carrying because she feared the drugs would be detected by police dogs.

NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale said she had repeatedly warned governments about the likelihood of a death similar to that of Ms Thoms if sniffer dogs continued to be used at such events.

She said a 2006 report by the NSW Ombudsman had concluded the dogs were ineffective.

But West Australian police have said Ms Thoms had nothing to fear as there were no drug detection dogs at the festival, apart from dogs being used by railway police at the Showground rail station.

"There may have been a perceived fear of being detected," Inspector Wayne Silver said.

"But she certainly did not see any dogs at the entrance to the venue as has been reported.

"The only dogs were being used by rail police at the Showground rail station - in the forecourt of that.

"Nowhere else were they used at the ground and at no other entrance to the ground.

"Ms Thoms was dropped off by a relative at the main entrance where there were absolutely no detection dogs, nor was she ever in the line waiting to get searched."

Insp Silver said Ms Thoms was understood to have taken ecstasy before her arrival at the venue, and that her friends had indicated she feared the other tablets she was carrying would be detected.

"But I think we have to shift the focus away from this issue (of drug detection dogs),'' Insp Silver said.

"We seized 145 amphetamine tablets (at the venue) that day ... does that mean other people didn't take too many and that there were no other overdoses?"

Teen's death not our fault - Police Commissioner

Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan has rejected claims that police were in any way to blame.

“I extend my sincere condolences to Gemma’s family, but I cannot allow misinformed people like NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale and the Youth Affairs Council of WA’s Executive Officer Lisa Laschon to apportion blame on police for this tragedy.” the Commissioner said.

“Police do not accept responsibility for this death.”

“Some of their propositions are quite frankly absurd and suggest that police should turn a blind eye, do nothing about drug possession, and ignore the State’s laws regarding illegal drugs,” Commissioner O’Callaghan said.

“Police in this state will not be modifying their tactics when it comes to people who use or deal in illegal drugs, and I believe the community of Western Australia supports that approach.”

Both the State and Federal Governments put a great deal of effort into drug awareness and education, and for their part police will continue to target both drug dealers and users.

Operations such as that in relation to the Big Day Out will continue.

Premier Barnett offers sympathy to family

Premier Colin Barnett said Ms Thoms' death was ``very sad'' and extended his sympathy to her family.

"But the only protection against drugs is not to use them and the police did the right thing in inspecting and trying to detect illicit drugs,'' Mr Barnett told Fairfax News Radio.

''... it is the scourge of the modern society.

"Sure there was all this sort of flower power, let's give it a go in the 1970s. I think now, 30 years on, people are conscious of the real implications of ... of putting toxic chemicals into your body. It kills."

Many contributions have been made to a group set up for friends of Ms Thoms on the Facebook social networking site.

"This beautiful girl made one mistake that cost her her life," the group's administrator Deanne J Prus writes.

"I don't believe everyone that overdoses are drug addicts & I'm sure her friends & family will confirm that this sweet girl was nothing like that."

An autopsy has yet to be conducted to confirm the exact cause of Ms Thoms' death.

The Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia’s Executive Officer, Lisa Laschon, said police were using the wrong approach at several festivals across the summer season.

"The loss of any young life is tragic, but what worries me the most is whether or not this death
could have been avoided if the relationship young people had with police was not one of fear and dread," she said.

YACWA has claimed that it is irresponsible to target popular music events, without first working with young people to educate them about their rights and the possible impacts illicit substance use could have their health.

"Yes, these young people are making mistake by choosing to take illicit substances.

"The Western Australian Police should be targeting high level dealers who often target young
people as customers, not young people who are simply carrying one or two pills."

NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale said Big Day Out concerts were not venues "where you catch the Mr Bigs of drug dealing," Ms Hale said.

"Predominantly you get people carrying small quantities for personal use," she said.

"It's always young people being targeted. You think cocaine is just confined to young people? I don't think so."

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Have Your Say

Latest Comments:

With all the crazy arguments being thrown around in defence of the young girl, for a moment , I thought that drugs had been made legal. it is absurd that someone can break the law and then the blame is cast on others who are enforcing it. I am so sick and tired of everyone who commits a crime being potrayed as 'a lovely person with lots of great attributes who never did anything wrong' after the fact that they have committed a crime. it is not secret that recreational drugs are illegal? With Freedom comes responsibilty people!

Posted by: Vincent of Sydney 3:37pm February 04, 2009

I blame the police entirely for this death. they are incompetent goons no matter what state they are in. If they had been out doing their real job catching real criminals then this girl would still be alive and to further that point if they had even a scrap of competence the dealer who sold her the ecstacy would have been dangling from the gallows months before hand! we need competent police and the death penalty for drug dealers!

Posted by: bill of 3:12pm February 04, 2009

I cannot believe this is even an issue. The girl had illegal drugs and chose to consume them. Not just one pill but three????? The Police didn't tell her to consume them and neither did anyone else! Sad end to a young life...condolences to her family.

Posted by: Freda of Sydney 3:04pm February 04, 2009

Last time I checked drugs were illigal..............simple really

Posted by: Hank of Freshwater 2:05pm February 04, 2009

Whether the dogs she saw were drug dogs or not, the threat to her was still percieved. If these events are going to be policed in such a way, reduce the penalty. Sure someone with bags full of drugs is clearly going to sell and they should be charged but if someone gets caught with just a couple of pills, confiscate them rather than pressing criminal charges and dragging people - at great expense- through the courts. The less fearful of repercussions the less likey they are to panic.

Posted by: Richard of Sydney 1:35pm February 04, 2009

I wonder if the bleeding hearts that claim this girl was a beginner at drugs would offer the same support to the future elderly that she would have to bash, murder or rob to support her habit.

Posted by: Red Baron of TAREE 1:35pm February 04, 2009

NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale, yeah you can say they should be going after the big wigs when it comes to drugs but who knows how many possible overdoses the police prevented by confiscating the illegal drugs off some of these people hey? Funny how headline grabbing poli's never seem to see the other side!!

Posted by: Velvet of 1:34pm February 04, 2009

Anyone who takes drugs is a complete moron. Everyone knows what they can do to ppl. Cause mental illness, other awful health problems and even death as in this case. Police should prosecute anyone that uses or deals drugs.

Posted by: Drugs are bad mkay... of Adelaide 1:29pm February 04, 2009

Of course the police would deny responsibility. Ultimately they are protecting the revenue governments derive from alcohol and tobacco sales. Their actions, camouflaged as "drug detection" are nothing more than protecting market share on behalf of their employers. No surprise that when young people start using recreational stimulants that the government doesn't get a cut from, the government hits back using force - as in this case. Enough of this hypocrisy!

Posted by: Mike Roberts of 1:25pm February 04, 2009

It is such irresponsible comments by Sylvia Hale and Lisa Laschon that enbolden people to continue to abuse themselves by consuming drugs. The police should be commended in enforcing the "no drugs" stance and I welcome and applaud more stringent enforcement and stiffer punishement. If anyone is stupid enough to throw their life away to conceal drugs by consuming them (which they should never be carrying anyway) they should be the one responsible for the consequences.

Posted by: Eugh of Merrylands 1:14pm February 04, 2009
Read all 33 comments

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