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Rebuttal of "Fact" 31

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31. The McCanns also claimed that sniffer dogs were ‘notoriously unreliable’. They quoted a U.S. case where a cadaver dog’s alert was said to be wrong. Months later, the dog’s alert was proved right.


Verdict - Misquotation and Misleading

Source - Media articles, Interviews and Blog.


Summary of Verifiable Facts

  1. Two sniffer dogs were brought from England to the McCann holiday apartments in Praia da Luz on 31st July 2007.  
  2.  One (Eddie) was an Enhanced Victim Recovery Dog (E.V.R.D.) - human remains, body fluid (including blood deposits). The other (Keela) was a Crime Scene Investigation (C.S.I.) dog - human blood deposits.
  3. Neither of these dogs is able to differentiate between different people and would therefore alert to ANY blood or death scent.
  4. It was claimed that the dogs "alerted" to possible blood and the "scent of death" in several places including the car the McCanns hired several weeks after Madeleine went missing.
  5. No human remains were found.
  6. The dog alerts are not considered evidence in their own right, since  the dogs are considered to be an investigative tool only.  This was emphasised by their handler in his rogatory statement.
  7. The US case which the McCanns were interested in was the Zapata case.  In this case, the court decision not to allow the dog evidence without a body was based upon studies which demonstrated that the dogs were incorrect between 62-78% of the time. 
  8. The cadaver dog used in the McCann case, hit the headlines again when it was identified as the same dog used in the Haut de La Garenne (Jersey Children's Home) investigation.  Media reports about the findings of the investigation suggest that the dog alerts had been false. 
  9. In March 2011, Skynews reported that a review by the the National Policing Improvement Agency had concluded that "Police sniffer dogs used to find missing people and dead bodies "urgently" need better training and monitoring".  Eddie, the dog in the Madeleine McCann case was specifically mentioned in this Sky News report.  (See An Official Viewpoint below)



This "fact" will be addressed in parts.


Part One - "The McCanns also claimed that sniffer dogs were ‘notoriously unreliable’".

As with all of their "facts", the Madeleine McCann Research Group do not provide sources.  Once again, the quote they have used is inaccurate.  The two available primary sources of Gerry McCann commenting on the dogs are provided below.  In neither does he use the word "notoriously".  Whilst arguably a minor point of difference in the sentiment of the quote, we feel it is important to highlight the disturbing level of inaccuracy which has been found in the MMRG's leaflet - especially when many primary sources are freely available and would not take long to check.


The first is an interview with Sandra Felgueiras on 5th November 2009. The relevant portion is quoted below.  It can be found at approximately 5.30 minutes into the interview.



Gerry McCann :I can tell you that we have obviously looked at evidence about cadaver dogs and they are incredibly unreliable.
Sandra Felgueiras: Unreliable
Gerry McCann :Cadaver dogs. Yes, that’s what the evidence shows if they are tested scientifically.



The second is from Gerry McCann's blog Day 988:-



The dogs: We realise that the behaviour of the dogs was the turning point in the investigation for the PJ. The use of dogs has proved to be problematic and unreliable in previous cases. (please refer to the Jersey 'Haut de La Garenne' case and other research published about their use and reliability). It is vital to note that alerts by such dogs are classified as intelligence rather than evidence, as police officers familiar with their use will verify. These alerts must be supported by forensics in order to be used as evidence. The results of the forensic examinations did not identify any blood or Madeleine's DNA. To suggestor use the dogs' reactions as evidence is simply wrong and abusive.




Misquotation.  Although this is a minor technical point, it is important to highlight it in view of the extensive inaccuracies of quotations which have been found in the MMRG leaflet.  Basic fact checking is an essential part of research.  Failure to produce sources or to provide accurate quotations is indicative of a general lack of regard for the integrity of information.



What the experts say

The following is taken from an article in The Sun newspaper in 5th September 2008:-



EXPERTS say sniffer dogs can play a vital role in fighting crime - but warn it is "madness" to rely on their findings. The animals are used to lead police to evidence, but do not provide evidence themselves. One expert told The Sun: "The dogs can identify traces of blood, but it's crazy to draw major conclusions just from what they find. "Any evidence they find should be used as a starting point. It's madness just to rely on the findings of the sniffer dogs."


Handler Martin Grimes, who worked with his dogs on the Maddie case, admitted the animals offered no more than "a guide". He said: "They can identify traces of blood and detect the smell of a decomposing body, but that is as far as they go." Martin said his dogs Keela and Eddie would

only give him an indication when they find what they are trained to detect.



He said: "Blood could be invisible to the naked eye, but Keela will detect it. It doesn't matter if it's hundreds of years old.  "Eddie smells for the scent of a decomposing human body. He can detect any part of a human body that is decomposing - hair, bones, flesh, anything. "The smell of a decomposing body is very difficult to get rid of. It can easily be transferred to clothing and on to a person." A spokesman for the McCanns said: "Dog alerts can be unreliable. The handler himself makes it clear in the police report that such alerts are meaningless without corroborative evidence. There was no such evidence.

"Gerry and Kate are not interested in dwelling on mistakes that were made. They and their investigation team wish to focus entirely on finding Maddie."


Additional Note

The misquoted phrase "notoriously unreliable" can be attributed directly to the Secretary of the "Madeleine Foundation" in a letter to the Prime Minister.



"The McCanns have rebutted this evidence by claiming that the evidence of these dogs is (I quote) ‘notoriously unreliable’, yet

despite that claim, Mr Grime’s dogs have been used successfully dozens of times to alert to the scent of places where corpses

have lain for a period."


Once again, no source was provided.



"Dogs don't lie"


Haut de La Garenne

In his blog, Gerry McCann referred to the Jersey 'Haut de la Garenne' case.


Below are some media articles which were published during the investigation into the Jersey Children's Home followed by the actual findings.



Media Reports during the investigation


From Sky News:-



"A sniffer dog trained to find human remains has had an "extremely strong reaction" in a cellar at a former children's home where police are digging for bodies - as another "suspicious" bricked-up room is discovered.

Police at the former home Jersey's deputy chief police officer Lenny Harper said the sniffer dog started barking soon after entering the cellar, which it is trained to do when "it makes a discovery". He said the animal's response was similar to when a child's skull was found at the premises on Saturday."



From The Times:-



“Police fear grim finds in Jersey cellar after sniffer dog reaction“



From The Telegraph (with a picture of Eddie - the McCann case cadaver dog):-



“Sniffer dog hunts for more bodies in Jersey children's home”



From The Guardian:



 “Six more bodies feared buried in Jersey home”



Actual Findings


Despite the “extremely strong” reactions of these top dogs which had been used in the McCann case and about whom the McCann’s persecutors will claim a 100% success rate, the Haut de La Garenne investigation ended with the following headlines:-


From the Daily Mail:-



 “£4m Jersey 'House of Horrors' investigation shut down after police chiefs admit NO children were murdered in care home”


They revealed that 'human remains' found at the former home were almost all animal bones and that only three might be human. These dated from between 1470 and 1670  -  hundreds of years before the care home opened.



From the BBC:-

Note that the piece of Victorian coconut shell was the "child's skull" which Eddie the cadaver dog had "an extremely strong reaction to" (see Sky News report above)



  1. After being examined by experts from the British Museum, a fragment thought to have been from a skull turned out to be a piece of Victorian coconut shell.
  2. "Shackles" found in rubble turned out to be "a rusty piece of metal", and there was no evidence to suggest it had been used for anything suspicious.
  3. There was no blood in the cellar, and the bath blood was said to have been found in had not been used since 1920.
  4. The "secret underground chambers" were just holes in the floor, "not dungeons or cellars".
  5. Most of the 170 pieces of bone found in the search came from animals. Three were human and two of these dated from between 1470-1670 and 1650-1950 respectively.


Mr Warcup said: "Our assessment is that the forensic recoveries do not indicate that there have been murders of children or other persons at Haut de la Garenne.



Example of McCann Persecutors' response to Haut de La Garenne



 “The fact that there was a piece of coconut shell where Eddie alerted is irrelevant: it just happened to be there. No body or body parts found does not mean that there never was a body in that place or that the dog failed.“(Anna Esse on MissingMadeleine forum)



The fact remains that if it weren’t for the discovery and sophisticated forensic testing of these fragments, all we would have had to go on were the “extremely strong” dog alerts upon which the McCann’s persecutors place so much faith!




Part Two - They quoted a U.S. case where a cadaver dog’s alert was said to be wrong.

The media reported that the McCanns were in touch with the lawyers of Eugene Zapata who had been charged with the murder of his wife based upon the evidence of sniffer dogs.


From The Times:-

This case is one in which no body was found.  Note that the County Judge refers to research which proved the unreliability of sniffer dogs in his explanation of why dog alerts are not considered admissible evidence in their own right.



“Now [The McCanns’] lawyers have requested the case files from the ongoing murder trial of Eugene Zapata in Madison, Wisconsin.  His estranged wife, Jeanette, a 37-year-old flight instructor, vanished in October 1976 after taking her children to school.  Her body has never been found.  Detectives suspected that Mr Zapata killed her but did not have enough evidence to go to court. Mr Zapata, 68, was charged with murder last year after sniffer dogs were brought in. They allegedly detected the scent of human remains in a basement at the former family home. But Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler ruled that the evidence was inadmissible, saying that the dogs were unreliable. He quoted analysis of the three dogs’ performance record which showed that they were, respectively, incorrect 78 per cent, 71 per cent and 62 per cent of the time.  The judge told the court: “The state has failed to convince me that it’s any more reliable than the flip of a coin.” The jury is considering its verdict.


A source close to the McCanns’ legal team said: “The court papers, giving the legal submissions, are on their way to the McCann team for consideration. At the moment there are no formal charges and therefore there is no formal allegation against which the McCann team can work. We are having to work a little bit in the dark.  “But given that we understand the central plank of what the police are alleging involves sniffer dogs – albeit British ones, which are said to be particularly good – this is important and relevant, and will be raised with the police and brought to the judge’s attention.”




Part Three - "Months later, the dog’s alert was proved right"

Misleading.  Despite his wife’s body not being found, Eugene Zapata changed his plea to guilty.  This does not change the reason why the alerts of sniffer dogs on their own are not admissible in court as "evidence".  The reason they are not is because they have been found to be unreliable 78-62% of the time - too high an error margin upon which to base a charge of murder.


Jaycee Dugard

Another case where cadaver dogs have been used recently is that of Jaycee Dugard.


From The Telegraph:-


A spokesman for the case said this:-



 Sgt Nelson would not say where in the yard the dogs picked up a scent and warned that the indications do not always prove


"They picked up a scent that may or may not be a sign of some remains," Sgt Nelson said.”



So are dog alerts unreliable?

There is no doubt that these dogs do sterling work and their efforts are frequently rewarded by the discovery of missing persons or their remains. However, there is good reason why sniffer dog alerts are not admissible as evidence on their own and that is the evidential proof of their unreliability.


The fact is, these dogs are used as a tool to find bodies. All the experts quoted above are at pains to emphasise this. The final proof of the dog's success is the discovery of forensic evidence. Although there was much media speculation and many false stories about the forensic evidence in the Madeleine McCann case, the final and official conclusion was that there was nothing to suggest that Madeleine McCann had died in Praia da Luz or that her parents had harmed her. The fact that stories to the contrary were in circulation at all was a crime in itself.


When searching for human remains, these dogs indicate places where investigators can dig. If the investigators do not find remains in the first place the dog alerts to, they don’t give up, they keep searching and often, they are rewarded with the discovery of the corpse they were looking for. In Praia da Luz, the dogs found no body.



Scent Article Method Dogs

It is a also a fact that cadaver and blood dogs cannot differentiate between the scents of different people. For that, you would need a Scent Article Method dog known as a SAM dog. These are the scent dogs which most of us have in our imaginations.  SAM dogs which we see being offered a sniff of the missing person’s clothing and which then track down the person to the exclusion of all other scents. However, there are only a handful of these SAM dogs in the UK and these are hired out at significant cost to police constabularies throughout the country.  McCann case dogs, Eddie and Keela are not SAM dogs.


Martin Grimes - McCann sniffer dog handler - Report about McCann Findings


Martin Grime is the handler of the dogs, which were used in the McCann case. The following are extracts from his report in the McCann case regarding whether his dogs’ alerts were proof that Madeleine McCann had died in apartment 5A. 



  • There is always a possibility of contamination of odours by transferral. EVRD does not make a distinction; he responds with a certain behaviour for which he was trained when he recognizes an odour. He does not identify the reasons for the presence of the odour nor does he identify suspects. Forensic confirmation and specialized investigation methods will determine the reasons and the suspicions. In order to undoubtedly affirm there must be a confirmation of the alert signals made by the dog.
  • It is my view that it is possible that the EVRD is alerting to 'a cadaver scent' contaminant. No evidential or intelligence reliability can be made from this alert unless it can be confirmed with corroborating evidence.
  • The dog alert indications MUST be corroborated if to establish their findings as evidence.
  • My professional opinion as regards to the EVRD's alert indications is that it is suggestive that this is 'cadaver scent' contaminant. This does not however suggest a motive or suspect as cross contamination could be as a result of a number of given scenarios and in any event no evidential or intelligence reliability can be made from these alerts unless they can be confirmed with corroborating evidence.



An Official Viewpoint


Sky News reporting on the findings of the National Policing Improvement Agency:-



"Police sniffer dogs used to find missing people and dead bodies "urgently" need better training and monitoring, according to an official report.

The Government's National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) said specialist victim recovery dogs are not trained to approved standards, with no way of gauging their competence.  The NPIA reviewed the use of the specialist sniffer dogs two years ago, but its report has only now surfaced following a

request by Sky News.  "There is no consistency in what the dogs can do and how it is done," the report states.  "Furthermore, there is no national standard for accrediting dogs and handlers or record keeping of the success rate they achieve."


The report added the dogs, which are trained to detect the smell of dead bodies, have "the potential to cause complications in an inquiry".  "There is an urgent need to have national policy on their training, accreditation and deployment," it concluded.

The review uses a kidnap investigation to highlight how dogs have tied up valuable police time.  The animals detected human remains in old furniture that had been bought from houses where the owner had died.  The use of victim recovery, or cadaver dogs, has proved to be controversial in a number of high-profile cases in recent years.  A South Yorkshire Police spaniel called Eddie was said to have sniffed out the "scent of death" at the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey and the apartment from which Madeleine McCann disappeared in Portugal.  But in both cases nothing more was found and South Yorkshire Police say Eddie is no longer working with them.

Sniffer dogs hindered the police probe into Shannon Matthew's disappearance

Victim recovery dogs from four different police forces were used during searches for kidnapped schoolgirl Shannon Matthews in Dewsbury in West Yorkshire in 2008.  The dogs found evidence of dead bodies, but officers later discovered the corpses were nothing to do with her disappearance.  "The properties searched contained a high level of second-hand furniture bought from dwellings where someone had died,"  according to the NPIA report.

"This resulted in numerous indications that required further investigation to confirm whether they were connected to the investigation, or to previous owners of the furniture."


The Association of Chief Police Officers told Sky News it was consulting individual police forces and hoped to have national training standards for the dogs later this year. "




There is no doubt that sniffer dogs can be useful in police work, but it is clear that there are issues with regard to the establishment of standards of training, monitoring and accreditation.  A dog alert on its own is not considered evidence on its own and the reasons for this are fundamentally clear - EVRD dogs can tell us that they can smell "something", but not "what" or "who" that might be.  This is further complicated by the ease of scent transferal and the fact that the scent can linger for years.  Therefore, we have Eddie the sniffer dog alerting to ancient bones at Haut de La Garenne and the dogs in the Shannon Matthews case alerting to the "scent of death" on second-hand furniture which had come from a house where someone had died.  None of the dog alerts in the Shannon Matthews case turned out to be related to the case. 


Additionally, the proven error rate of sniffer dogs is significant and proves that it is not an exact science upon which we can rely to charge anyone with a serious crime.


Finally, it should be remembered that as medical doctors, both of the McCanns are likely to come into contact with corpses.



Post Script


From The Daily Mail (4th October 2009):



"Eddie the sniffer dog - the animal that had supposedly found the 'scent of death' in the Portuguese flat where Madeleine McCann disappeared - no longer had a licence for UK police forensic work when Harper started using him in Jersey. "






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