A nose

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Drugs, Dog, Undercover, Police

for trouble Pubs that hire sniffer dogs demonstrate zero drugs tolerance. But are dogs bad for business? JOHN HARRINGTON investigates one such scheme...

for trouble Pubs that hire sniffer dogs demonstrate zero drugs tolerance. But are dogs bad for business? JOHN HARRINGTON investigates one such scheme in Aylesbury Barney, a loveable but hyperactive Labrador puppy, scampers from seat to sofa at the Lounge bar in Aylesbury, sniffing feverishly for traces of drugs (nothing is found). His enthusiasm is unrelenting but the results are rather messy ­ thankfully a minder is on hand to wipe away the slobber. Barney is not the only dog on a mission in Aylesbury tonight. For the past four years, weekend dog patrols have been out in force at pubs and clubs in the Buckinghamshire market town, under the guidance of Pubwatch, with the aim of keeping drugs out of licensed premises in Aylesbury. The dogs have been provided by private security company Grosvenor International Services (GIS), which runs similar operations at pubs and clubs across 24 police areas in the country, usually under the organisation of a Pubwatch or Barwatch scheme. Two types of searches are carried out in the town centre on an average Friday evening, as young revellers dressed for a night on the town hop from pub to bar. The test first involves "passive" dogs waiting patiently in the doorway with their handlers, sniffing punters as they enter. Undercover police officers stand around outside, ready to act if the dogs catch a whiff of something suspect. This highly visible approach acts chiefly as a deterrent for would-be drug takers. Walking from venue to venue, hosts and door staff are quick to recall occasions when the dog's presence has deterred drug carriers from their venues. Sam Gould, one of the door staff on duty at the Hogs Head, notes: "Sometimes people walk up to the dog and immediately walk away. It's a real deterrent. I'm all for them." GIS's principal director John Franklin-Webb says this effect is common. "If you think about it, someone would have to be pretty stupid to take drugs in if there's a dog on the door. It sends out the message that drugs will not be tolerated on the premises." Even if people are determined to enter the venue while carrying drugs, ignoring the presence of the dogs, they are often caught. Yates deputy manager Richard Robinson says: "Some people were smoking pot earlier in the day and the dog picked it up when they tried to come in. The people left, but undercover police got them when they went behind the corner. It's very discrete but effective." Franklin-Webb recalls a similar incident that saw an alert dog help with the conviction of a wanted criminal. "Two guys tried to get in and the dog showed a little bit of interest but not enough for the handler to tell the police. But as they went out the dog reacted more convincingly and this gave the police sufficient reason to check them. "They asked to see the ID of one of the guys and it turned out he was wanted on a warrant for non-payment of funds for drug-related matters. Police checked their vehicle and they found drugs, cash and weapons." The dogs can't be positioned outside venues because GIS don't have the right to patrol public areas. But they sometimes operate inside the pubs if the doorways are not suitable for them. This is often the case at older buildings that tend to have smaller entrances. Franklin Webb says: "I remember at one pub we couldn't work on the door so we closed off the loos. The ladies went out of the toilet to see the dog sat right in front of them. But we found some of them had been smoking [cannabis]." Customers don't appear to mind the dogs as they walk orderly into the different high street bars in the town's lively Exchange Complex. Some drinkers look slightly intimidated ­ but it is difficult to know if this is due to the dogs or the burley (but affable) door staff. One argument against the passive dogs is that they can be off-putting ­ frightening, even ­ for some law-abiding customers. And there's no denying that the operation does amount to a substantial congregation of individuals; as well as a dog and handler on the door, around half a dozen more GIS handlers wait outside with another two dogs, and there is also a door supervisor at the door. But the idea that the group is intimidating is quickly rebuffed. Steve Baker, Aylesbury Police's Pubwatch liaison officer, says: "They don't look that frightening. It's not like they use a snarling Rottweiler or an Alsatian." Echoing this sentiment, Litten Tree manager Jim Woodcock says: "[The dogs] do an amazing job and I don't think they have a detrimental effect on business. They are pretty ­ the girls like to stroke them." Another concern is that a pub might receive bad publicity if drugs are found on the premises as a result of a dog operation. This is also refuted, as Baker explains: "If we find drugs on the premises that might make people think this is the sort of thing that happens there. But that is not how we work. The licensees know that taking part means they are trying to prevent drugs in the town." Later in the evening we make our way to the Lounge to see an example of the second type of search, involving dogs like Barney in a more "proactive" role. Proactives are on hand to sniff venues for traces of drugs before customers enter. This helps licensees determine where most drug offences take place. Police also use this occasion to carry out a drug audit, to ensure drugs have been "bagged and tagged" and handed over to the police. As we are about to leave, Franklin Webb receives a radio message about an incident at one of the bars in the Exchange. We hurry back to find a woman collapsed in the doorway as she was entering. She had to be carried out by paramedics. It looks highly suspicious. People suspect that the woman may have been carrying drugs so decided to enter the venue, along with a group of men, while the dogs were being changed over (this happens frequently ­ they can only be effective for a limited period of time). But the door supervisor recognised her as a known drug user, so it is likely that she panicked and collapsed. Eventually the dog teams turn up and traces of drugs are detected on her handbag. As a result she is taken to hospital, where she is arrested. Baker says that dog teams move from venue to venue, so sometimes people will try their luck if they see a pub is unguarded. Typically dogs are stationed on three doors at time, but more can be called to a single outlet if it is particularly popular. But this incident shows the effectiveness of the joined-up approach involving dog teams, door staff and police. "You can't be too complacent, as this episode shows," Baker adds. Franklin Webb is certain that the scheme has had gone some distance to ridding pubs and clubs in Aylesbury of the menace of drugs. "There's been a market displacement. People who used to deal drugs here now go elsewhere." The manager of the final destination we visit, the Litten Tree, is perhaps the most enthusiastic about the dog operation. Woodcock says he actually paid for a one-off dog patrol when he was manager of the Croydon branch of the Litten Tree. He appeals for the industry in general to think carefully about investing in this sort of service. "Individually we don't have much money to pay for something like this. Unfortunately lots of companies don't see the cash return in it. In my view the major operators should do more to try this is town centres. "The dogs are doing a grand job. What they do is put over a message of zero tolerance to drugs." How it all began Dogs teams patrol licensed venues all across the country, and the Aylesbury scheme is an example of one that has been particularly successful. The Pubwatch itself is seen as a model initiative ­ it won the Pubwatch Award for Social Responsibility at this year's Morning Advertiser Best Pub Awards. Dog patrols first came to Aylesbury about four years ago, in pilot schemes funded by the licensees themselves. "It was funded by the pubs after the licensees decided to make a firm stand against drugs," says Aylesbury Pubwatch police liaison officer Steve Baker. Thames Valley Police couldn't supply the pro-active dogs so Pubwatch went to GIS. Aylesbury Police prov

Related topics: Other operators

Property of the week

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more