A Life on the Dog Section

Denis Turner: My interest in police dogs started in my youth, well before joining the job. Having served my apprenticeship at Addlestone, eventually getting to work on the crime car there, I realised that I enjoyed the 'sharp end' and being involved with what that entailed. This heightened my interest in the dog section, as they always seemed to be involved with the 'juicy' jobs.

The handlers at Addlestone at the time were Mick Juniper, Neville Cast and John Davey with Rod Hill having recently taken on the dog sergeant's role on Northern. All were very amenable to my poking my nose in, (Rod Hill was my section sergeant for a time so we knew each other well), and became good friends. I knew that the section was small as was the turnover but I offered to 'puppy walk' a dog to flag up my interest and also to learn more about the job as I knew that the section had recently restarted a breeding programme.

'Timber' Wood eventually came and checked out our police house at Chertsey and, all being well, I was allocated a bitch puppy, Mountbrowne Lucy. Strict instructions were given and I was left in no doubt that she would be only with us for a short period of time, up to twelve months, before being taken back to HQ for work. Lucy soon became one of the family and our four sons soon became attached.

I was aware that the dog may not be with us for too long and that she was destined to become a working dog so tried to keep some distance to avoid any too much heartbreak. All went well and I continued my spell on the crime car at Addlestone working with two excellent WPCs, Anita Steer until she left to have her daughter and then Di Frost later Davey.

However, a surprise vacancy occurred about a year later and I suddenly found myself not only on an initial dog course but with Lucy and so it was she became my first working police dog in 1978. Reading Timber Wood's memories of the dog section I realise that much of what he describes as the norm continued during his reign and during my first initial course we were expected not only to ensure the dog and the kennel block were kept spotless but also the surrounding kennel areas also.

Our course, under Sergeant Stan Ford who had transferred to Surrey from Sir Peter's old force, Suffolk a couple of years previously, undertook what was probably the last major, (handler built), project at the kennels. This was the construction of the wooden steps that led from the kennel block down to the sports field. These were constructed from old railway sleepers that we had to go to Guildford Railway Station to collect and get back to HQ in the old stores van.

There were a hundred or more heavy sleepers and over the thirteen weeks of the course we dug out the bank and built in the sleeper steps. This was in between and in addition to our busy dog-training schedule. We must have made a good job of them as they lasted about twenty-five years before they were condemned by the new Health & Safety regime in the twenty first century. I believe the sleepers are still in place although the gates are locked and secured to prevent access. The job was done at a great saving to the dog school and force budget.

As a result of another unexpected vacancy I went back to Addlestone at the end of my initial course and had several happy years working there with Neville Cast and Mick Juniper. Lucy turned out to be a great working dog and she also did well in the force trials. She was also used in the reintroduced breeding programme and produced many fine pups for the force some of which were sold abroad. One pup she produced was Mountbrowne Maggie and I puppy walked her for a time until Neville Cast took her on for work.

So it was that for a time that Neville and I worked mother and daughter at Addlestone with both turning out to be fine dogs. It transpired that we both did very well in the force dog trials in the early eighties and, together with Chris Procter, represented the Force in the regional dog trials in Hertfordshire I think, not only a first but also probably, a unique event. Bizarrely, we competed at various events throughout the week and at the end of it we found that mother and daughter ended the event with identical marks so it was 'honours even' at the end of the trial.

Another incident that springs to mind involving these two dogs was when Neville and I were among many tasked to secure the Duke of Edinburgh at a World Wildlife function being held at Sutton Place, Send. It was at the time when many dog handlers were authorised firearms users and we were used as a dual purpose, dogs and firearms.

Neville and I were patrolling at the rear of Sutton Place where we could see across the vast lawn and into the huge dining hall. The lights from the hall were flooding out onto the lawn and we had let both dogs off the lead to relax and play as we patrolled. Suddenly, one dog put up a young deer, which bolted, closely followed by mother and daughter either side of it trying to bring it down.

Neville and I went into panic mode desperately trying to recall our two dogs that by now were having a great time. Horror of horrors, we saw the deer start to make across the lawn towards the lighted hall with the dogs close on its heels. We had visions of the Duke looking out of the window just in time to see two police dogs bring down a young deer right outside the window of the World Wildlife Fund Dinner!

Fortunately, just in time both dogs remembered their training and called off the hunt and returned to our, very grateful, sides. The deer ran off unharmed and we disappeared into the woods before anything further happened. We all know how understanding the Duke is with the local Constabulary ... .

When I first went on to the dog section it was clear that you were expected to become an authorised shot, (but not all handlers were). Eric Adams was my first instructor followed by all the others, Mick Wayland, Dick Chase, Alan McArthur, Pete Moore, and I was authorised annually and carried for nine years. A few years later the shooting of Stephen Waldorf took place in his mini by the Metropolitan Police using double taps. It caused an outrage and all training was changed as a result.

The dog section handler's were the ones who were tasked, with Special Branch for VIP protection. They carried out this role for many years with the armed handler patrolling the grounds with his dog and the Special Branch officer in the house on close protection.

I can recall many long boring hours particularly at night, working usually twelve hour shifts, looking after the likes of Maggie Thatcher, who had friends in the Bramley area, Sheik Yamani165, King Hussein of Jordan and his son Prince Abdullah who is now King, at Egham, a VIP at Farnham I cannot now recall; the officer in charge during Bloody Sunday at Chertsey where you were more in fear of being shot by his batman; Operation Mimic at Ripley where Michael Havers, (Attorney General then), and his wife used to visit a well known actress and husband who were friends, plus the royals and many, many more.

We used to book on at our local nick and draw a revolver plus twelve rounds, booked out by the station sergeant and booked back on completion of duty; six in the chamber and a reload in a pouch. This was all before the Firearms Support Team and was a regular duty for an armed dog-handler usually working with a Special Branch officer.

One other incident I attended with Lucy was at Ottershaw about 0230hrs one morning in the late 1970s or early 1980s. There had been a spate of thefts at the local garage on the A320 near The Otter pub. This night somebody had been disturbed trying to break into a car on the forecourt and I was called to it.

It was a quiet still night and I put Lucy to work and she took off immediately from the garage, across the road and started tracking down the Cobham Road opposite. She was working on a free track as I had not put the harness on her and I was struggling to keep up with the speed she was tracking at. She went for some distance until she turned into the boy's school along the Chobham Road and stopped at the front door of the school.

It was a boarding school and it was all in darkness. I did no more than bang on the door and a master eventually answered. I explained what had happened and he told me that he had had suspicions about one dormitory. We went to the dormitory and switched on the light and saw several angelic boys apparently asleep in bed. However, when the master investigated further we found the boys in bed fully clothed! A car radio was recovered and that was that.

Working a police dog is a unique experience and, unlike any other piece of official equipment, it is with you and your family twenty-four/seven. At that time there were only about twelve or fifteen handlers in the County. Call outs at all hours were frequent and often after you had finished work at 0100hrs as you were then one then on call.

Four dog sergeants at the training school - Denis Turner standing centre

Four dog sergeants at the
training school - Denis Turner
standing centre.

I remember getting called out at 3 am at Chertsey and as I was getting to the van my wife came to the door and called me back in as they had nicked the offender. The whole family was disturbed. They liked to get value for money out of a handler. On top of this role many of the dogs were also trained for drug work, (Lucy was one), and much later for explosives. I continued working Lucy until 1982 when I was promoted off the section. She stayed in work and was re-handled by Melvin Mann who continued to put her to good use. To this day we still call her 'our dog'.

I returned to work at Addlestone mainly on court prosecutions and other administrative work as I had suffered a personal tragedy and during this difficult time I am eternally grateful for the support given to me by everyone from the Chief Constable down. I particularly remember the support given to me at Addlestone by Chief Superintendent David Harding, Superintendent Tony Forward, and Ted Sellars who had just been promoted Superintendent to Addlestone from CID. He was my direct boss and had Chief Inspector 'Paddy' Swain working with him, (on his retirement 'Gentleman' George Hedges took over). Nicer people you could not wish to work for.

In 1985, after about three years at Addlestone, a vacancy for Sergeant occurred back on the dog section. At the time I was a temporary inspector at Addlestone and probably the approach for me to move back on to the dog section was not a good one career wise. However, I was keen to continue where I left off on the section and I also thought it was a fresh start for my family and so it was, after about eleven years of working at Addlestone, we moved to Dorking.

We moved into the old chief superintendent's house at 36 Deepdene Avenue, Dorking where we lived happily for another thirteen years. For a few years I was the operational dog sergeant on Eastern. At the time Glenn Winstone, Dick Smith, Len West, John Humphries, Les Jales, Mel Mann and the inimitable John Worgan were handlers there. Colin Edwards had recently moved from dogs to CID and for a period I re-handled his old dog Magnum.

This was bizarre as Magnum was one of Lucy's pups so having lost Lucy I came back to one of her pups. Colin had done a good job on Magnum and he was an easy dog to get the best out of as a result of Colin's efforts. Eventually Magnum was retired and went back to Colin for his dotage, (Magnum not Colin), and I went on an initial course with a gift dog called 'Ross'. He was a live wire but a good working police dog.

On the 12th October 1984 the Brighton bombings occurred when the IRA attempted to destroy the British Government. The aftermath of this reverberated around the police service and dog sections. Although explosive search dogs did exist, (I had trained Magnum up as a dual-purpose explosive general purpose dog), it was rather an ad-hoc arrangement and no proper operating procedures existed.

Amongst the other many initiatives that came out of this incident was a national system of training and licensing explosive search dogs. The police dog training sub-committee of Home Office Standing Advisory Committee (HOSAC) decided that Chief Inspector Brian Eland, West Mercia and Superintendent Harry Edwards, RUC should look at tightening up the training of explosive dogs.

It was their ideas that formed the licensing and future training of the dogs and the training of the explosive search dog instructors and assessors. The RUC with its wealth of experience was the obvious place to hold training courses for instructors/assessors and the first one was held within a couple of years of the Brighton bombings.

In 1987 I successfully completed a ten-week Home Office Instructors course in the Metropolitan Police for general-purpose dog work and was being called into the Regional Training School at HQ as an instructor more and more often. About 1988 I was transferred into the school as a full time Instructor and in 1989 I went to Northern Ireland for an Explosive Search Dog Instructor/Assessors course.

This transpired to be an experience that I will never forget as you quickly realised the difficulties the RUC men and women were operating under at the time. The first night we arrived at Strand Road Police Station we were told that we had to approach it from the right. When the question 'why' was asked we were told in a broad Northern Irish accent, 'because a police car was attacked last week as it turned left into the nick!'

Whilst still puzzling that one out we booked in and made our way up in the lift to our accommodation quite high up this tall police station. As I opened the bedroom door I could see out of the window and over the streets of Belfast. I went to switch on the light and was stopped by the RUC officer I was with who said, 'pull the curtains first; they have been known to take pot shots at us'. When I did switch on the light I saw the notices advising you what to do in the event of a rocket attack, welcome to Belfast.

What amazed me was the amount of incidents reported on local radio that were never reported on the mainland. One night the course was working on a project for the following day when we heard the rattle of gunfire. Apart from us 'boyos' from the mainland no one blinked an eyelid. So many memories of that course but I would not have missed it for anything. The sad thing was that, due to the problems of getting people to attend the course, it was eventually moved to the Metropolitan Police which in my view was a retrograde step.

By this time Timber Wood had retired from Surrey and moved to Dorset where he became the officer in charge of dogs for the Atomic Energy Police. The school and section went through another big change; the main one being a move away from inspectors having dog experience, which was left to the sergeants. The emphasis was for managers who came in and made their mark in various ways before moving on up the ladder of promotion.

This is not to say it we did not have some good inspectors as we did but suddenly the section had a huge turnover of managers and faced constant change as a result. This was partly due to a huge and embarrassing error made by a visiting instructor to the school. He had been seconded to the school for a short period of time due to pressure of work and, it transpires, had brought some of his own training explosives.

After a training exercise had taken place in a Jumbo jet one night at Heathrow not all the explosives used were picked up and the plane flew for several days with it on board until a cleaner discovered it. To say all hell broke loose is an understatement. No excuse but the problem was that the kit was not missing from the store at HQ, which had its full complement when checked. As part of the overhaul of the department it was decided to move the section from divisional control to Operations Department.

There are so many memories of working on this section that, like many others who have worked in the job, you could write a book. However, my abiding memories are working with many good and committed people and I particularly recall how hard Timber Wood worked during his tenure. I am sure he would be the first to admit that he could be short at times but his workload was not light.

At one time he was not only running the operational dog section, (duties, manning, equipment, budgets etc.), and the regional dog school, (course bookings, administration, accommodation etc.), he was also the secretary of the HOSAC dog training sub-committee at a time when Sir Peter was head of that committee, running a breeding programme, managing the kennel staff and much more. His was more than a job but a dedication to it.

One example I recall was at a time I was at HQ whilst Lucy, my working bitch, was in whelp as part of the breeding programme. Lucy had started to have the puppies late one night and Timber and I were in the whelping block, assisting her as best we could. After about half a dozen pups were born there was a lull in the proceedings. By now it was about 0200hrs and Timber was whacked after being at work all day and now late into the night. He instructed me to keep an eye on things and to call him if there were any problems whilst he went off to his office to try and get forty winks.

I do not think he had been gone an hour when he came back in a rage. It transpired that he had dozed off in the dark in his office when he suddenly became aware that someone had entered his office. As he came to this person, in police parlance – 'now known to be a northern dog handler', was rifling through Timber's correspondence in a Watergate attempt! I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall, as I do not know who was more shocked when Timber leapt to his feet and put the light on.

Needless to say a lock was put on the office door the following morning and the flow of information to the troop diminished considerably.

I do not think the dog section ever publicised enough its important role and in many ways that was it's problem as most handlers just thought they were doing their job, most of it hard and dirty. I would be the first to admit that, at times, we could be our own worst enemies as others did not get the humour, but a better bunch of coppers you would not find to work with when the chips were down.

Bob Bartlett: I think it would have to have been 1989 that a truly independent from division dog section was formed. It was not easy to achieve as there was opposition from the divisional chief superintendents but it all made sense and they could not find too many strong arguments. Part of it was to ensure cover across the county – drug search, bomb search, training abstractions. The job had changed and the demands rocketing.

The next big argument was to get a siren fitted to the dog vehicles. A senior officer on Eastern was very against it and my argument was they would respond as emergency vehicles, (he argued they were not), so we need to make them safe. One management for a specialist team was an argument I stuck with and won – eventually.

I believe this was the formation of the true Dog Section – we had the name put on the vans to reinforce the message internally as much as externally- before they were dog handlers on division administered by the dog inspector similar to the CID structure two managements HQ and division.

The problem of the explosives left on the aircraft due to the borrowed instructor from Hampshire, led to John Beavis coming to the School/Section from Operations. Later I put Dave Cording in charge, and for a time the search dogs were attached to Clive Barham and the Search Team.

As Denis sets out above, dog handlers are a breed of their own but, difficult, stroppy, bloody minded, independent, reliable, capable, and scruffy but, if only their levels of commitment, courage and professionalism could be inculcated in all police officers so much would be achieved.

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165 Sheikh Yamani was Saudi Arabia's minister for oil between 1962 and 1986 and is the former leader of the world's collective of oil-producing countries, OPEC. In 1975 he survived being taken hostage by the notorious criminal Carlos the Jackal.

166 Now demolished to make way for some awful flats.

 

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