Legacy of false drugs charges lingers for Sydney party promoter
False drug charges and Sydney's draconian lockout laws have taken a considerable toll on Randel Morris, writes freelance journalist Serkan Ozturk.
A Sydney party promoter who faced false drugs charges and had his nightclub raided by NSW police remains haunted by the events more than a year on as lockout laws strangle the city’s nightlife.
Randel Morris had been running the popular UP Day Club at the now closed Exchange Hotel on Oxford Street since 2007, with the weekly event drawing a strong crew of returning loyal partygoers over the years. But that all changed in the early hours of January 4 last year after Morris’ club was raided by a large contingent of Surry Hills police, on the back of one anonymous Crime Stoppers call two hours previously.
“I still have nightmares and am definitely still haunted from my unjust arrest,” Morris said. “At one point there were more than six policemen and undercover officers surrounding me in a circle.
“The humiliation of being searched in a public domain on Oxford Street and kept under police guard, even after my search produced nil finding to drugs, has stayed with me.”
Officers allegedly discovered a small amount of gamma-Butyrolactone (GBL) inside a storeroom in the club, and Morris was charged with supplying and possessing a prohibited drug as well as dealing with proceeds of crime.
Soon after, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) trumpeted Morris’ arrest in a notice published on January 16, placing temporary closure measures on the Exchange Hotel.
The notice also erroneously claimed Morris had been charged with the supply of both “GBL and Methamphetamine”.
All charges against Morris were dismissed in July after a court found that NSW Police had not engaged in a reasonable investigation and it was likely that Morris had been set up by a former associate. Police were also forced to pay Morris’ legal costs.
Hearing the case in the Downing Centre, Magistrate Mark Buscombe also admonished police for “improper” actions during their investigation and for failing to account for why a larger amount of drugs had allegedly been discovered during the raid than what was eventually tendered as evidence.
“The fact remains that there was a clear discrepancy between the evidence as to how many vials were said to have been found in the accused’s bag at the scene and how many vials were ultimately examined at the police station, and there is simply no explanation on the evidence as to the difference,” Buscombe found.
During the trial, at least one senior NSW Police officer also admitted that the single Crime Stoppers call that prompted the raid “had an unusual level of detail” contained within it.
Morris, a 51-year-old businessman, has no criminal record and before embarking on a career in the entertainment scene had been the proprietor of several tourist retail stores in the inner city.
“I started working as a club promoter at The Exchange Hotel in October 2007 and have never set foot in a police station or have had any incidents whatsoever with the police until my arrest last year,” Morris said.
The party promoter says he would like for police to eventually admit that they made a big mistake.
“I have hosted four very successful night events since without any issues or incidents, however it is getting more difficult finding venues to hire due to the shortage of venues as well as due to the fact my criminal drug charges are still available online to anyone doing a search under my name,” he said.
“However we are now at the one-year anniversary since I got charged, and the chances of reopening a dayclub are close to zero.
“And my public persona if you google me is that I was charged for 'supply', and nothing has been said publicly about the fact that the charges were dismissed and I was awarded my legal costs to be paid back."
The Exchange Hotel, which had been such a magnet for the city’s queer and alternative communities for decades, was forced to close for good soon after the raid last year, with lockout laws decimating Sydney's once-thriving party scene.
“So many places have shut down,” Morris said. “What used to be a vibrant and alive area is now dull. So many shops are closed and available to lease out. It is very sad to see so many businesses end.”