Smuggler sniffed out by canine detective

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DRUG SMUGGLERS now run a new gauntlet at London's airports - passive detection dogs selected and trained by the Royal Air Force. Yesterday during a Customs demonstration at Heathrow, there was a surprise when Raf, one of two greyish brown shorthaired German pointers, rescued by Battersea Dogs Home, netted a real catch: seven kilograms of cannabis worth pounds 14,000.

Not a big haul compared with the pounds 500m worth seized by Customs in Britain last year, but a remarkable demonstration of the dogs' effectiveness.

Flight NH201, arriving at Terminal 3, was chosen for the demonstration because it was not thought likely to carry real drug smugglers. A female Customs officer with cocaine hidden under a corset mingled with the passengers as part of the demonstration. But before that, Raf took an interest in a blue suitcase, unclaimed, on one of the other carousels. Customs officers took a look and found 'a significant quantity' of cannabis.

'Passive detection dogs' have been in use in the United States for some time. The Defence Animal Centre sent a team to the US to study their use. Raf and his companion, Ben, were the only dogs out of six to pass the seven- week course - five weeks shorter than that for the traditional 'determined search mode'. The passive dogs do not have to operate in different environments like the 'determined search mode' dogs.

The dogs remain the property of the RAF, who also train the handlers from HM Customs.

Squadron leader Peter Somerville, commanding the dog-training wing at RAF Newton, said a different kind of dog was needed to operate in crowded baggage halls and passenger areas. 'It will offer no reaction to the general public but offer an indication.' Raf demonstrated that.

Instead of pawing, attempting to bite a suspect package or passenger, or barking, the dogs are taught to sit quietly by a suspect.

The RAF dogs are trained to sniff out cocaine, cannabis, heroin and amphetamines and can detect one or two grams. Under training, one of the dogs picked up a scent from a passenger in one of the Heathrow terminals. It turned out the person had been smoking cannabis the night before and was wearing the same clothes.

(First Edition)