Cadaver dogs which have been used in searches for the ‘Disappeared’ in the North have been deployed as part of the massive Tina Satchwell search operation.
Ronnie, a highly-trained human cadaver dog, was yesterday scouring Mitchel’s Wood in Castlemartyr, Co Cork, with his handler, Mick Swindells, of Search Dogs UK, on day two of the huge garda-led search of the woods for evidence relating to the disappearance of Ms Satchwell, 45, from her home in Youghal, Co Cork, almost a year ago.
Mr Swindells confirmed that he and Ronnie are assisting in the operation but he declined to comment any further.
Garda search teams yesterday continued their painstaking search of the 40-acre woodland with assistance from Defence Forces site clearance specialists.
The woodland has been divided into zones and the teams are working their way through each one, searching from around 8am to 6pm daily.
Equipment which can detect if ground has been disturbed, as well as mini-diggers, is on standby.
Cadaver detection dogs like Ronnie can be used to detect buried human remains as a result of crime or natural disasters, and to detect concealed human remains on the surface or submerged in water.
They can cover ground quickly and are viewed by gardaí as a valuable tool in identifying specific areas of interest that may require further investigation.
Ronnie has been trained specifically to work as part of police operations and along with other search techniques such as ground penetrating radar.
If he picks up the specific scent of a recently deceased, putrefying or skeletonised human corpse, he will signal to his handler who will, in turn, identify the area of interest.
A former police officer, Mr Swindells is a pioneer in the use of search dogs for police operations.
In 1996, while still a serving police officer, he was awarded the Home Office Research Award for his study on how to use dogs to detect submerged bodies. It was the first time this specialised area had been studied in the UK.
Since then, he has been training specialist dogs in the UK for various police forces, as well as working for foreign government agencies around the world.
Search Dogs UK has been the sole provider of cadaver search dogs to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victim Remains established as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
He confirmed yesterday that he has been engaged by the Russian authorities and is actively involved with other specialist dogs in the search for the remains of Grand Duke Mikhail Romanov — the murdered younger brother of murdered Tsar Nicholas II of Russia — and the remains of his British secretary, Bran Johnson.
Both men were shot dead and believed buried in woodland in the Perm region of Russia in 1918. Their bodies have never been recovered.
Mr Swindells and his team of dogs have had successful outcomes in several cases but experts say such specialist dogs don’t always get it right.
In 2000, Mr Swindells and a cadaver dog, Shep, were called in to search a field near Nottingham to help locate the suspected grave of a murder victim. Shep signalled in one spot and the area was excavated but nothing was found.
Police returned later with an informant who identified the site of the grave nearby and it emerged that Shep had been out by just a metre.
It transpired that as the murderer was digging the grave, he had cracked a drain with his spade, which allowed compounds from the decomposing corpse to enter the drain and flow about a metre downhill where they were stopped by a blockage.
However, on another occasion, during the search of a house in the UK, a signal from one of Mr Swindells’ dogs led to the discovery of bones beneath the floorboards which were later identified as pig.
Following dating of the bones, it’s believed they were buried there during the Second World War when pork was rationed.
Gardaí have declined to comment on what led them to target the woods but it is understood they are acting on information from at least one credible source.
Supt Colm Noonan, of Midleton Garda Station, said the search is part of an “open and ongoing investigation”.
He has appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious in the woodland area last March to come forward.
Anyone with information can contact gardai at Midleton on 021-4621550.
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