Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-60)
MR TERRY BYRNE, MR IAN MACKAY AND MR STEVE BRASSINGTON
MONDAY 22 APRIL 2002
40. If we could take a look at detector dogs and the lack of them in Scotland, we wonder what the rationale is behind there being no detector dogs located in Scotland.
(Mr Byrne) When we had four detector dogs here from 1997 through to 1999, they were singularly unsuccessful and never made any significant commercial seizures throughout that period of time. They were only drugs dogs and had limited flexibility. The 16 detector dogs which we are putting place will be held in two places. One is Manchester and one is Hull. We can multiskill and we can make them more flexible. They will be able to detect currency, drugs and tobacco and possibly meat as well, as and when that element of our activity changes. That is probably a popular job for a dog, I should imagine. Recently, we have deployed some of the dogs. We brought two dogs up here together for a long weekend to tackle drugs at the airport and they found nothing. We brought a dog up to tackle currency for a full week at the airport and again nothing was found. The reason why it was not too difficult to reach the decision was that the detection staff were no longer convinced that it was useful to use them. The ionscan capability which sniffs in its own way is proving to be much more popular and user friendly and the officers can deploy it much more freely.
(Mr Brassington) As far as Scotland is concerned, there is a double benefit in that we retained all the staff when we closed the dog units down. The managers in Scotland can still call upon the two dog units, one in Hull, one in Manchester, which comprise tobacco dogs, cash dogs and drugs dogs. No request has been turned down since we consolidated that activity. Only last week, we had the dogs up from the southern parts of the region.
41. How often have the dogs been up in the last year?
(Mr Brassington) We have only recently consolidated the units. There have been two dog deployments over the last three or four months.
42. You think it is quite an efficient way to run the service by having the dogs based at Manchester and Hull?
(Mr Brassington) It was my decision to do that. Scotland is not unique in the decision. We also had a small dog unit in Newcastle and one in Belfast as well as the one in Paisley. It was by far the most sensible thing to do, to get a specialist dog unit and we could then deploy these dogs quite quickly.
43. How quickly could you respond to a request if somebody at the airport said there was some intelligence and they needed the dogs in the next 24 hours? Could you respond to that?
(Mr Brassington) Yes.
44. Provided of course they were not somewhere else at the time?
(Mr Brassington) That is the beauty of having 16 dogs.
45. How wide an area do they cover from Manchester and Hull?
(Mr Brassington) An area slightly south and as far north as we go.
46. From Birmingham to?
(Mr Brassington) Stoke on Trent.
47. How long would it take to get a dog to Shetland?
(Mr Brassington) In the unlikely event that it was needed, that would take some time longer.
48. You made the decision. You must have made an assessment.
(Mr Brassington) It would take days to get a dog to Shetland. The decision was based not so much on the time it would take to get to Shetland but the need to get to Shetland. There may be a minimal risk in Shetland but the threat of direct importation of class A drugs into Shetland is minimal. That is what all the information tells me.
49. If you were to obtain intelligence of the nature which, in your view, exercising your professional judgment, meant that there were to be class A drugs for example coming in through Lerwick or somewhere within 24 or 36 hours and the sort of operation was such that it would involve the use of sniffer dogs, would you be able to meet that?
(Mr Brassington) I would use alternatives to sniffer dogs in those circumstances. I would put more people in.
50. Can I ask you about the attitude and actions taken by Customs and Excise to a charity project based in Shetland called "Dogs Against Drugs"? Are you aware of this project?
(Mr Brassington) Yes.
51. We took informal evidence last week in Orkney with a video link from Ian Davidge, who was then visiting the Faroe Islands as chairman of Dogs Against Drugs. One of the things he told the Committee had caused him some concern was that there had been approaches made to Customs and Excise by Dogs Against Drugs and there had been no response from the mainland office.
(Mr Byrne) That is no longer true. Dave Clark, the manager who some of you met this morning, wrote a week or two ago apologising for the delay and expressed complete support for what they were doing, but said that, from his perspective, the smuggling risk, which is an international flight or vessel movement, into that area did not justify Customs putting direct resources into that activity.
52. You will offer them sympathy and support but not much else?
(Mr Byrne) I do not think sarcasm is a great deal of help. What they will provide is intelligence. They will provide information from any sources that we have. They will provide officers and ionscanning if there is an identified intelligence need. The notion that we should resource, whether dogs or people, on the off-chanceit has not happened in the last two years, to my personal knowledgethat over the next 12 months there may be one occasion when we should get some urgent call for a drugs dog from Customs is not something that I can afford.
53. Have you made any assessment of the approach taken to the protection of islands in the Faroes which would be a comparable situation to the one in Shetland?
(Mr Byrne) We are aware of it through the work which has been done by the Shetland Dogs Against Drugs activities. We have not gone further into that because we know that the international flights into the islands are negligible. I believe I am right in saying, having researched this only recently, that into the various airports on the islands there is one flight from Norway per day. That is the international movement. That is the issue for Customs. If there is traffic in from the Scottish mainland or between the islands, that is a police issue.
54. What assessment have you made of the increased cruise traffic in and out of the islands?
(Mr Byrne) The cruise traffic that we have identified so far has presented no known drugs risk. It is not that there is no risk. It comes back to the point that we made earlier on. Of course, if there is an international movement, it presents a possible drugs risk. I could not possibly afford to resource on the basis of possibility. There is no information of the cruise risk or indeed a potential increase in freight movements causing a drugs risk. If and when there is a class A drugs risk, that will be reassessed and, if necessary, we will redeploy.
55. The fact that the Faroe Islands have four sniffer dogs for their Customs and Excise you do not consider?
(Mr Byrne) I do not know what the Faroe Islands have by way of international traffic of any sort. I do not know what the role of the Faroe Islands Customs is in relation to their police. If there is to be a police sniffer dog in Shetland or one of those islands, I would hope that if it is deployed against reasonable risk it ought to be providing the kind of drugs protection on the island that will probably be given nowhere else in the country. Nowhere of a comparable size will have access to a full drugs dog.
56. That is very true.
(Mr Byrne) Yes.
57. I gather from what you are telling us that if you had a real emergency it would be scanners and electronic equipment that would be brought in quickly to look at that emergency. If that is the case, why are we keeping 16 dogs at all if they are surplus to requirement?
(Mr Byrne) They are there principally because of the class A currency and tobacco risk in Hull, Merseyside, Manchester Airport, which is quite significant, Leeds, Bradford Airport, and a range of east coast ports. I am not sure whether 16 drugs dogs in the long run will demonstrate that they are particularly effective or productive. I say that from a personal viewpoint and they have yet to prove themselves. They are not useless. In the right location, with the right dog and the right handler, they have proven themselves to be reasonably effective but the jury is out on them. You have mentioned the urgency of something happening in a remote area. That is very rare. If you have intelligence, the nature of the intelligence is seldom that there are drugs today on that vessel; you have to be here now. When that kind of intelligence comes about, it is usually reasonably specific and we are as well off putting human resources into it. The best use of the dogs over the years is where there is limited intelligence.
(Mr Brassington) Of the 16 dogs, four are cash dogs, four are tobacco dogs and four are drugs dogs.
58. What are the other four?
(Mr Brassington) Cash, tobacco and drugs.
59. That is 12. There are four missing somewhere.
(Mr Brassington) That is because four dogs are still being trained. They will be cash and tobacco, but that is very much the future in my view for the dogs. The ionscan is a very strong, technical aid for drugs. I believe the dog unit has a future but I suspect the emphasis is going to shift.
60. One of the things that was said to us last week is that drugs are now being posted to people. Whether that is coming from abroad or not I am not 100 per cent sure but I would assume a lot of it would come from abroad. What dealings do you have with the Post Office in regard to that?
(Mr Byrne) In the last year, in terms of drug detection for Scotland, of 75 detections, 49 came from the Dover post depot, Mount Pleasant in London and the Coventry hub. There is a lot of class A posted. Perhaps more worrying than anything else is the fast parcel stuff because not only is it posted but it is the speed and weight. With most parcels maybe up to half a kilo, that is a significant amount. A lot of the work of the Task Completion Unit are letters identified coming into one of the international freight depots sent on to officers here in Scotland and other parts of the country to see if they could detect who are behind them. They are reasonably successful at doing that. That is probably one of the biggest areas of drugs results.
Chairman: Gentlemen, can I thank you very much for coming along today and being so frank? The evidence you have given us will be most helpful when we come to make our report. We hope to hear from you with these figures that you have on staffing levels. Thank you once more.