Wuff justice - Doggy sleuths on the trail of murder victims

24 April 2004
Yorkshire Post

They have become national heroes, called upon to take part in many of the country's most high-profile murder investigations.Yet South Yorkshire Police's two 'body dogs' started out as an unwanted pet and a stray destined for the dogs' home. Crime Correspondent Kate O'Hara reports.

SNIFFING out tiny traces of blood in murder cases and tracking down buried human remains is a job only two specialists in Britain are qualified to do.

Two-and-a-half-year-old springer spaniel Eddie and partner Frankie - a four-year-old border collie - are experts who come second to none in their line of work.

Their keen noses take them under floorboards, through rivers and woodland, and into lofts and caves. They are fully passported, and have been transported far and wide by plane and helicopter.

And their professionalism and success rate are such that when the FBI called on their services recently, they were simply too busy to help.

The South Yorkshire "body dogs" and their handlers, PC Martin Grime and PC John Ellis, are quickly becoming one of the biggest success stories of the police force and have been involved in some of the most high-profile murder investigations of the last three years.

At a cost of £1,000 a day to other forces, they are also turning out to be something of a money-spinner for South Yorkshire Police.

When officers in Scotland needed crucial information when investigating the death of 14-year-old Jodi Jones last year, the South Yorkshire team was their first port of call.

The schoolgirl went missing after going to visit a friend in June and a short time later her body was found in a secluded woodland path, just a few hundred yards from her Dalkeith home.

They were also called in after the killing of Bradford-born student Shafilea Ahmed, 17, who went missing from her home in Warrington last September. Her body was discovered earlier this year in the Lake District.

Locally they have been involved in the investigation into the murder of Leanne Tiernan, who was kidnapped as she walked from a bus stop to her home in Bramley, Leeds,

PC Ellis said: "It's amazing really. We came up with the idea a few years ago because we'd heard that the only body dog we were able to use - one from West Yorkshire - was coming up for retirement.

"We put together a business plan for our bosses, with the idea that we would be called out on perhaps two jobs a year - but it's taken off beyond belief. We're currently getting about two requests every week."

But their plan came close to failure, almost before it had chance to get off the ground.

The two officers set out looking for high-drive working dogs, which they could train to be the best, and found two border collies - Frankie and a similar dog.

Their first deployment was to investigate the murder of Barnsley man Shane Collier, but only Frankie proved suitable, and the other dog had to be retired early.

That was when they began to train up springer spaniel Eddie instead, a dog whose owner was finding him simply "unmanageable".

The four-strong team has never looked back and their first successful - though upsetting - find was Mr Collier's body.

The 21-year-old had been dismembered and was buried in two graves.

PC Grime said: "It's awful in one way, but on the other hand it's the good thing about the job too. It gives the relatives closure, and they need that."

Earlier this month the team found the body of pensioner Attracta Harron, who is believed to have been murdered in Northern Ireland. They discovered her remains in a river bank in County Tyrone.

After the find around a dozen members of Mrs Harron's family insisted on meeting both officers and their dogs at the scene.

PC Ellis said: "Her relatives asked if they could meet us, which was a little upsetting, but they wanted to do it, and it appeared to be a comfort to them."

Police in Northern Ireland, including a team of divers, had conducted extensive searches for Mrs Harron, but had been unable to trace her.

PC Ellis said: "If it hadn't have been for the dogs we would have missed her."

The team's next job will be to try and find the body of missing Devon teenager Charlotte Pinkney.

Detectives believe the popular 17-year-old, who disappeared nearly eight weeks ago after a party in Ilfracombe, was murdered.

PC Ellis said: "In a lot of these cases - especially when we get the results and find a body - the dogs get a lot of the publicity.

"But we've worked with such brilliant investigation teams - really good detective work which gets us to where we need to be. It's a massive team effort every time."

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