THE first sniffer dog trained to detect mobile phones is nearing the end of his training in prisons across the East of England. Murphy, a 20-month-old English Springer Spaniel, is due to start work in December and, if successful, it is hoped there will a

Phil Bowyer at the Police Dog Trials 2006

THE first sniffer dog trained to detect mobile phones is nearing the end of his training in prisons across the East of England.

Murphy, a 20-month-old English Springer Spaniel, is due to start work in December and, if successful, it is hoped there will a dog in every prison in Britain.

Murphy was chosen from an animal shelter in Suffolk and 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, including drug dealing.

Until now, prison officers have relied on random searches.

In April, a training programme was introduced at Whitemoor Prison, in March, by senior officer Phil Bowyer and lead trainer officer Mel Barker.

The aim was to train the first sniffer dog in the UK capable of identifying the scent given off by mobile phones.

Mr Bowyer, area drug dog co-ordinator for the prison service eastern area, said: "The mobile phone provides a direct link from drug buyer to supplier or to a supply network outside the prison. The Prison Service is determined to develop new methods of detecting mobile phones.

"These include the most up-to-date electronic mobile phone detectors and using sniffer dogs."

The initial stages of Murphy's training are the same as training any search dog until the unique footprint scent - the scent of a mobile phone - is introduced.

Once the footprint scent has been accepted by the dog, a repetition and reward method is introduced to condition the appropriate response.

Murphy can discriminate between the scent of a mobile phone and other smells.

The final stages of Murphy's training will continue over the next few months in prisons including Bedford and Littlehey, near St Neots.

Mr Bowyer said: "We will monitor 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."

INFORMATION: In 2003, senior officer Phil Bowyer was appointed 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.