On the scent of a message

PUBLISHED: 14:23 27 September 2006 | UPDATED: 22:15 28 May 2010

Detecting a mobile phone hidden in the wall

Detecting a mobile phone hidden in the wall

THE first sniffer dog trained to detect mobile telephones is undergoing the last stages of his training in prisons across the East of England. Murphy, a 20-month-old English Springer Spaniel selected from an animal shelter in Suffolk has been trained to

THE first sniffer dog trained to detect mobile telephones is undergoing the last stages of his training in prisons across the East of England.

Murphy, a 20-month-old English Springer Spaniel selected from an animal shelter in Suffolk has been trained to recognise the distinctive smell of phone handsets.

Mobile phones are banned in prisons because they are deemed a security risk. Prisoners have used them to plan escapes, threaten court witnesses and organise crime. Up until now prison officers had been relying on random searches to uncover mobile phones.

In April 2006, a research and development training program was introduced by senior officer Phil Bowyer and lead trainer officer Mel Barker. The aim of which was to train the only sniffer dog in the UK that is capable of identifying the scent given off by mobile phones.

Phil Bowyer area drug dog co-ordinator for the prison service eastern area, said: "The detection of mobile phones within prison establishments is paramount to the supply reduction process. The mobile phone provides a direct link from buyer to supplier or supply network outside of the prison environment. In order to disrupt the supply of illicit drugs and contraband entering our prisons the Prison Service is determined to develop new methods of detecting mobile phones. These new methods include the most up to date electronic detection devices together with the implementation of a research and development program to use 'sniffer dogs' to detect mobile phones."

The initial stages of Murphy's training are the same as training any search dog until the unique footprint scent i.e. the scent of a mobile phone is introduced. Once the footprint scent has successfully been accepted by the dog a repetition and reward method is introduced in order to condition the appropriate response from the dog. This stage was followed by an extinction training phase where distraction scents food and human scent was offered to the dog. When the dog alerted on these substances no reward was given. However, when the alert was given for the mobile scent the dog was rewarded. Thus, Murphy is now capable of discriminating between the scent of a mobile phone and any other scent.

The last stages of Murphy's operational environmental training, started in mid September and will continue in prisons across the East of England including HMP Bedford, Littlehey and The Mount in Hemel Hempstead and he will be ready to start work in December.

Officer Bowyer added: "His training to date has been very successful, and he has been able to correctly identify mobile phones. The prison service will be monitoring Murphy's success with a view to introducing similar dogs in other jails. The final decision will be made by the Dog Inspectorate who will have to licence the dog. There has also been interest from European prison services and other law enforcement agencies."

The use of sniffer dogs to detect mobile phones is an initiative being developed by the Prison Service in the Eastern Area with the support of the National Dog Support Group.

INFORMATION: Senior officer Bowyer was stationed at HMP Whitemoor in March until 2003 when he was appointed as the area drug dog co-ordinator for the Eastern area overseeing the use of 52 drug dogs in 12 prisons and 26 dog handlers. Under his guidance several handlers in the area have received national awards for their dog handling ability and the amount of drugs found. The prison service are looking for labradors and Springer Spaniels between the ages of 15 months and two years to train as search dogs. If anyone would like to donate a dog please contact officer Bowyer on 07976 450724.

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