How to get past festival security according to festival security

Not that you’re up to anything. Obviously.

Music festivals are some of the hardest places to get your drugs into, outside of prisons. Unlike in airports – where security is mainly looking for bombs, bundles of cash, and huge amounts of mind-altering substances – festival security is actively looking for people with small, personal amounts of drugs. And given the fact that searching everyone properly would take longer than the festival itself, they single people out – often using sniffer dogs to justify the selection.

So, want to know whether security pat you down? Or whether they can strip search you? (They can’t.) We asked the festival security guards themselves.

Don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself

Getting into a big festival goes something like this: you get your ticket/​ID checked, and your bags are initially searched for contraband that’s not drugs (such as glass bottles, weapons or pyrotechnics). Then you walk past a sniffer dog (more on that later). If you don’t want any trouble at the gate, you need to not act bait. It goes without saying that there’s no place for swinging jaws at this point. There’ll be plenty of time for all that once you’re in.

People get cocky,” a steward who worked the gates at a big music festival told THE FACE. I saw one guy walk up to security to go through the gates smoking a joint! I don’t know if he got in.”

Split into smaller groups

If you’re in a massive group, don’t all go in together. If you’re in a large group of friends and are being loud, you’re going to draw attention which is not good for you,” a security guard, let’s call him Terry (absolutely not his real name), told us. Terry works at two large music festivals. When entering a festival, go in with two or three of your mates only,” he says, not as one large group.”

Don’t take anyone else’s drugs in

If you’re caught with three people’s stashes, you’re legally classed as a dealer and could actually get sent down. In 2019, a 23-year-old man, Shaun Saunders, agreed to take all his mates’ drugs into a festival in exchange for getting free party prescriptions. He got busted on the gate, with drugs stashed in a Pringles tube.

The following year, he appeared at Winchester Crown Court where he received a two-year suspended prison sentence, was ordered to complete 250 hours of unpaid work, and slapped with a four-month curfew. And that’s just one example – it happens all the time.

Be aware of how the sniffer dogs work

After the weapons search, you’ll be invited to put any drugs you have into a yellow amnesty box without consequences. Then it’s likely you’ll walk past a sniffer dog (if you go in at peak time, when human traffic is high, you’re less likely to walk right past).

The funny thing with sniffer dogs? They don’t really work. One study looked at almost 10,000 searches where the dog had indicated the presence of drugs. They were wrong a whopping 75 per cent of the time. Another study, which collected data at Latitude Festival, found the dogs were wrong 88 per cent of the time.

So, what happens if a dog handler alleges that you have drugs on you?

Well – I haven’t,” you’ll probably say.

If you hand over what you’ve got, we’ll let you in. If you do not and we find it, you’re not coming in.”

The theatrical back and forth is designed to intimidate you into handing over any pills and powders that you might have on you. But, given how inaccurate the dogs are, it often baffles non-drug users who find themselves caught in the situation.

It’s all consensual at this point; without your consent, security can’t legally search you. You can just remove your consent, bail, and leave. But you won’t be allowed into the event as the search is a condition of entry.

It only gets really serious if the security are so convinced that you’re carrying a large amount of narcotics that they hand you over to the police. Because with the police, it’s no longer by consent – they can detain you under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and perform a strip search. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s a bigger risk at festivals where the police erect a pop-up station on site.

If the dog detects anything you may or may not have on you, you will be asked to go to a different tent,” another security guard tells THE FACE. We’ll call him John (also not his real name). In that tent will be two security guards. They’ll ask you to take off your overlayers ­­– jackets, coats, jumpers – check your bags, and do a body pat down. If nothing is found, another dog could come in to check. If it goes to your personal area [genitals], you will be asked one more time if you have anything, or the police could be brought in to do a full body search.”

Even when you’re in, be discreet

When you’re inside a festival, it’s easy to look around, clock that every third person in your vicinity looks like they are chewing a wasp, and think that it’s a free-for-all drug-fest. But be careful; a baggie brimming with white powder is, after all, just as illegal on a festival site as a baggie brimming with white powder anywhere else.

Having said that, the security has to pick its battles; if it spends all its time taking zoots off people, it’ll probably miss the person flogging hundreds of pills. Generally speaking, security wants these guys, not you.

On day one, the security are told to be hard on drugs and drug takers. We take people to the eviction tent and detain them until they’re kicked out or given a warning,” says John. But by day two, we have had so many people brought in, we are told to just use our heads; if they look like a [drug] taker and not a dealer then we take the drugs, place them in an evidence bag, and give it to the supervisor of the section.”

Still, be discreet. Don’t openly use drugs in the paths connecting the stages, for instance, as there’s more likely to be security about. Keep all the drug-related activities on the down low, in the campsite or in the middle of the dense thicket of limbs in front of a busy stage.

Most importantly… pass the vibe check

Some security guards are knobheads, but most are actually alright. Be nice to them. If you get pulled for a secondary search, you have about 30 seconds to build a rapport. You want to present as a chilled out person who would be no issue and add to the party. Make them think you’re sound and that they don’t really want to ruin your day.

Make sure when entering the search tables that you have your bags ready for a search and always say hello’ to the security that’s searching you,” Terry recommends. If you start with a polite hi’ or morning’ it starts a good conversation. If you start with, fucking security, I’ve got nothing on me,’ it’s already put you on the back foot.” Give their ego a little tickle, they’ll love that and you’ll be in the dance tent having your eardrums ravished in no time.

*This article was amended on 3 July 2024. It previously included names of specific music festivals. These have been removed for safety reasons.

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