Handler tells how dog lay by boy's body

The Merseyside child killings: Officers comb undergrowth and pond near murder scene in search for clues
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The Independent Online
Rigorous training dictates that police dogs bark to alert their handlers when they come upon their quarry. But when Hector, a 15-month-old Alsatian finally came upon the motionless body of Paul Barker it simply lay down beside him.

It was the poignant end to an increasingly frantic search that had led to the discovery of the body of his best pal, Robbie Gee, 12, just hours earlier in a clump of bushes by another police dog handler.

As a squad of police officers continued to hack away at acres of undergrowth at Eastham in Wirral yesterday in their search for the murder weapon, the dog handlers, both with teenage sons, related their roles in their gruesome discoveries.

Constable Billy Hill, who lives within half a mile of the Brookhurst field murder scene and knows the area well, began searching and found the boys' fishing rods and bicycles undisturbed at about 5.40am on Sunday. "Having found the equipment I was not sure what to expect," said PC Hill, 42, whose sons have fished the ponds alone many times. "I thought that they might be asleep somewhere. I called out to them."

Within minutes though the officer, who was searching alone without his dog, was able to see that the grass had been trampled into a path leading away from the pond where the boys had been fishing. "I was shocked when I found the body," he said. "But once I found the first body I thought I would soon see the second."

However, it was another seven hours before 13-year-old Paul's body was discovered by a second officer with his dog in a copse, surrounding another small pond.

"As we got halfway through the search my dog's demeanour changed," said Constable Jim Riding, 44. "It was hot and we had been searching for several hours. But it was obvious that he was on to something."

The officer went down the small bank after his dog, Hector, but lost sight of him. A colleague on the opposite side, however, could see what the dog was up to. "He had found the body and was lying flat beside it. It was very unusual. I climbed down a couple of yards and was hoping that the boy would still be alive and we would be able to help. But he was dead."

Yesterday police were keeping the murder scenes sterile as they concentrated their searches of the eight-acre site closer to the lily pond, known locally as the Carpies, where the boys had been fishing.

In an effort to unearth clues, including the murder weapon which is thought to be a 5in knife, the 200-strong team from operational support units all over the Merseyside region sectioned off areas and cut back waist- high brambles and grass.

Divers from the underwater search unit had already examined the pond, which is three feet deep and 30 yards long pond, but without success.

The efforts of the specially trained search teams, assisted by police dogs, is being hampered by the extremely hot weather, although it is estimated that about three-quarters of the site has now been examined.

Other officers in the investigation, one of the largest conducted in the region, spent the day on house-to-house inquiries in further attempts to trace the boys' last movements, or those of the killer.