Schools urged to use dogs to detect drugs after success of pilot scheme

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The Independent Online

Schools in England and Wales were urged to use sniffer dogs to combat a growing drugs problem. The call came yesterday after a successful pilot in six secondary schools in Buckinghamshire where the dogs were used to detect teenagers dealing and taking drugs.

Schools in England and Wales were urged to use sniffer dogs to combat a growing drugs problem. The call came yesterday after a successful pilot in six secondary schools in Buckinghamshire where the dogs were used to detect teenagers dealing and taking drugs.

An evaluation of the scheme by a specialist research team yesterday said it had been a success and called on all local education authorities to introduce it. Professor Allyson MacVean, of the John Grieve Centre for Policing and Community Studies, said the dogs should be part of every school's anti-drugs strategy. But searches may be more effective if done at random during lessons.

Two kinds of sniffer dogs were used during the trial. One, usually a spaniel, searched buildings and classrooms, and a passive dog, a labrador, was used in the school to detect whether pupils were carrying drugs or had come into contact with them. The scheme had the support of parents in the six schools.

Tim Andrew, head of Chesham High School and president of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "It is important you get the support of all concerned before you start. We had to consider 'what if' before we started. For instance, what if the labrador went straight up to a teacher and stood beside him? Fortunately, that did not happen. Nor did the dogs find pupils with drugs." Mr Andrew said the scheme had made pupils realise bringing drugs to school "was not sensible", adding: "If you like, it created a no-go zone for drugs in the schools."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he expected more schools to adopt the scheme, which was criticised by the civil liberties group, Liberty, as infringement of pupils' rights. He said heads believed drugs use by pupils was increasing.

"I don't accept Liberty's argument that it is an infringement," he said. "The only people who have anything to fear from this are those guilty of possession or dealing with drugs. I have heard of schools where police have come to PHSE [personal and social health education] lessons with dogs and shown what they can do. It doesn't seem a major step to saying we will use them for random tests. We want to crack down on drug use."

A study by Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College found most pupils (82 per cent), parents (98 per cent) and staff (92 per cent) were in favour of the use of the dogs.

The report said those caught in possession should be subject to both a "robust disciplinary procedure" and rehabilitation and counselling.

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