Scotland Yard has unleashed a new weapon in the fight against computer crime — two springer spaniels trained to sniff out mobile phones, laptops and even SIM cards.
Police dogs Bolly and Murphy’s super-sensitive noses can uncover data storage devices missed during the most meticulous fingertip searches by their human counterparts.
During a pilot project, Bolly used her incredible sense of smell to locate a paedophile’s laptop — hidden in a secret compartment in a dinner tray and wedged down the side of a bed.
Another suspect tried to hide a tiny SIM card behind laminate floor beading in his home.
A sex offender, trying to conceal his camera disguised as a torch, was caught out when a dog detected the device’s SD memory card in a box of rubbish previously searched by local officers.
The Met is now deploying digital media detection dogs in counter terrorism, robbery and murder cases to retrieve phones, computers, USB sticks and hard drives.
English springer spaniel Bolly was bred at the Metropolitan police dog unit training base at Keston in Bromley.
Murphy, who is the same breed but male, was given to the force by a security firm. Both have been trained to hone in on a specific chemical used in memory chips.
Bolly’s instructor Pc Craig Calthorpe said: “Often suspects will give officers a laptop they claim to use to search the internet, but there’s a second ‘dirty’ one they don’t want us to see.
“I knew we’d struck gold when Bolly discovered a concealed laptop inside a dinner tray in a room that had already been searched. The dogs were achieving what we wanted them to achieve.”
Dogs were first deployed by Scotland Yard in 1888, when bloodhounds were tested in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
The use of digital detection dogs was pioneered in the US, where they were trained to sniff out triphenylphosphine oxide, a coating used on all memory storage devices.
The technique was successfully trialled by police in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset in 2017.
A successful search is usually rewarded with a play with an old tennis ball. Pc Brett France, Murphy’s handler, said the animals had also found the keys to a suspect’s BMW in a stack of boxes.
The vehicle, which came as a surprise to the investigating team, is now the subject of a proceeds of crime investigation.
Pc France said: “The dogs are absolutely amazing and superb in what they do. Every day they go out, they surprise us. The project was driven by a change in policing which focuses very much on the recovery of evidence whether through DNA or cyber data. When you talk about digital devices, they can range from large laptops and hard-drives to micro SD cards, which you can hide wherever you like.
“We’re moving forward fast and anticipate we’ll be training at least four dogs within the next year due to the demand.” The Met has 117 sniffer dogs which have been trained to detect explosives, firearms, drugs, cash and forensic evidence.