A Huddersfield University researcher is leading vital work to improve the way police dogs search for human remains.
PhD student Lorna Irish, 24, is carrying out specialist research using victim recovery police dogs to sniff out bodies and body parts to help detectives on the frontline.
Lorna’s research is taking the existing skills used by victim recovery dogs to a new level and has witnessed tests where a victim recovery dog on a boat has detected human remains under water.
Lorna said: “If you train a dog with a chemical that is specific to human decomposition you can enhance its ability. It is not about changing the way the dogs do it, but improving it.
“They are mostly used for human remains detection, not just in murder cases but for suicides too.
“For example, if somebody has been hit by a train, the dogs are used to locate body parts. They have also been used after incidents such as the 7/7 bombings.
“They can also be used for blood detection if there has been an assault, for example, and in Lancashire they train their dogs to identify semen as well so they can be used in sexual assault cases.”
Lorna recently invited officers John Ellis and Mark Adams and springer spaniel Kip to the university and carried out controlled tests in the lab with vials containing different odours. The chemicals used are known to be produced from the decomposition process. Alongside these test chemicals were “positive controls” associated with human cadavers, such as human bone – from archaeological sources – and pork at various stages of decomposition.
Kip correctly identified the odours derived from decomposition.
Lorna added: “It was a successful demonstration but in the field victim recover dogs can sometimes be distracted by “false positives”, such as dead animals, or even mushrooms. If they can arrive at a greater understanding of the chemistry of odours from human cadavers, then victim recovery dogs can be extra efficient.”
Forensic science graduate Lorna relocated from Somerset to Huddersfield to carry out research and is supported by forensic anthropologist Dr Anna Williams and analytical chemist Dr Gareth Parkes.
She has plans to visit more police forces around the UK that have victim recovery dogs in order to witness their training methods, before completing her research in September next year.