The dog section: 1980s to today

We were the first force in the country to use dogs. Our dog section is over 100 years old, and we have 62 dogs assisting our officers today.

The dog section

Developments and recognition

The 1980s saw our officers rewarded for their work in the dog section. In 1980, PC Parkinson in Manchester became the first BTP officer to undergo training for detecting explosives when he and his dog attended a course with the Cheshire Police.

Two years later PC Margaret Lyall, stationed at Glasgow, became the first female dog handler in the force.

In 1984, a dog school was built in the grounds of the former BTP Training School at Tadworth. It was built on similar specification to Elstree but on a much smaller scale: there was only four kennels, one vets room and the instructor’s office.

Since 1984 the school has been extended to take seven dogs and a further instructor’s office has been added.

In 1988 Sgt Ablard was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s New Years Honours list for his services to dog handling within British Transport Police.

Terrorism and drugsBenji the dog and Judi his handler

On 21 December 1989 a bomb exploded on a passenger jet, causing it to crash in Lockerbie, Scotland. Two BTP dog handlers, Davy Connell and Alistair Campbell, quickly arrived on scene and started a 33-hour tour of duty. The officers and dogs discovered 23 bodies, and were later joined by dog handlers PCs Callum Weir and Neil Russell who remained on site until the end of the search four weeks later.

Passive Alert Detection (PAD) dogs were first used by the Customs and Excise and the Prison Service, but in 1988 PC Judy Bailey attended a Home Office Training School with her dog Benji in a high-successful pilot for BTP.

In their first two years together, Judy and Benji conducted over 4,000 searches resulting in 1,546 arrests. Other forces have now implemented the same method of training and use PAD dogs.

The move to Kent

In 2010, dog training was moved from Tadworth and the training school was moved to the Metropolitan Police’s Dog’s Training School in Keston, Kent.

The Explosive Search Dogs (ESD) section

From the first attack on the underground system in 1885, through to the atrocities of 7/7, terrorism is an ever-present risk.

The first explosive detection dog in BTP was handled by PC Tony Parkinson at BTP Manchester in the 1980s and this was followed shortly afterwards by a dedicated section of six officers, in Stratford. They dealt with both pre-planned and emergency incidents, within London and the surrounding areas.

After moving to Force Headquarters in Tavistock Place, London, ESD officers dealt with incidents throughout the terrorist campaigns of the 80s and 90s.

As a result of the Madrid bombings in 2004, the ESD Section increased in numbers, from six dogs to 32.

7 July 2005

The first of the new handlers had arrived at Headquarters with their dogs on the 7 July 2005, when suicide bombers attacked London Underground.

ESD handlers helped officers search for any other explosive devices, and searches at the scenes of explosions and bomb threats:

  • PC Dave Coleman volunteered for the harrowing task of searching the Kings Cross site with his search dog Vinnie, prior to bodies being removed.
  • PC Smith and his search dog Ross assisted the Metropolitan Police at the scene of the bus explosion in Tavistock Square, where they searched the bus and area for secondary devices among scenes of devastation.

A few weeks later, the dogs' skills were again put to the test at the failed bombing attempts on the Underground on 21 July 2005.

The section today

With 64 dogs, BTP’s Dog Section is one of the largest in Britain. We have 22 general service dogs, 34 explosive detection dogs, and six drug detection dogs.

Most dog handlers have more than one dog and some dogs are dual purpose. BTP dogs are regularly called on to perform duties away from the railway. Dog training is currently centred on the Metropolitan Police Training School in Kent.

Our dog section has the longest pedigree and continues to provide a valuable and reliable service to the railways and the public.