Madeleine: McCanns consult American lawyers over 'cadaver dog' evidenceLast updated at 18:07pm on 16th September 2007
Comments (2) Kate and Gerry McCann's legal team have consulted the lawyers of an American man accused of murdering his estranged wife in a case where cadaver dog evidence was key, a source said today.
Two British sniffer dogs, one capable of detecting blood and human remains, were brought to Portugal in early August.
The cadaver dog picked up a "scent of death" on everything from Mrs McCann's clothes to missing Madeleine's favourite soft toy Cuddle Cat, according to reports.
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During police interviews the McCanns were shown a video of the animal "going crazy" when it approached their Renault Scenic hire car, newspapers have claimed.
Leaked reports from the investigation have suggested Madeleine's parents could have accidentally killed her and then disposed of her body using the car.
Although they do not know the full details of Portuguese prosecutors' case against them, the McCanns are concerned it may rest on the dog's reaction.
They want to highlight the judge's dismissal of cadaver dog evidence in the high-profile Eugene Zapata murder trial in Madison, Wisconsin.
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The couple's lawyers have already contacted Zapata's defence team, who are now sending their large file on the matter to Britain.
Zapata's estranged wife, flight instructor Jeanette Zapata, was 37 when she vanished on October 11 1976 after seeing her three children off to school. Her body has never been found.
Detectives suspected Zapata of involvement in her disappearance but did not charge him because of a lack of evidence.
Police decided to conduct new searches using cadaver dogs, a new investigative technique, when an old friend of Mrs Zapata contacted them about the case in 2004.
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Eugene Zapata (left) was convicted of first-degree murder of his estranged wife Jeanette (right) when sniffer dogs found traces of human remains at his home
Zapata, 68, was charged with first-degree murder last year after the dogs indicated they sniffed human remains in a small basement "crawl space" at the former family home in Madison and other properties linked to him.
But Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler ruled last month that the evidence that led to the charge could not be put before the jury.
He said the dogs were too unreliable in detecting the odour of remains and noted that no remains were actually found.
The judge agreed with an analysis of the three dogs' track record by Zapata's defence team that found they were incorrect 78 per cent, 71 per cent and 62 per cent of the time.
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Gerry and Kate McCann: hired an American lawyer over sniffer dog 'evidence' that detected the 'scent of a corpse' on Mrs McCann's clothes
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Mr Fiedler told the court: "The state has failed to convince me that it's any more reliable than the flip of a coin." Zapata denies murder, and the jury in the case went out on Friday to start considering its verdict.
A source close to the McCanns' solicitors said: "The legal team are in touch with the lawyers who represented the defendant in the case.
"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."
How can a dog sniff through concrete?
WHO, WHAT, WHY? The Magazine answers...
Eddie has worked with the FBIA child's remains were discovered under several inches of concrete at a former children's home in Jersey after police bought in dogs to search the site. But how can they sniff through concrete?
For Eddie, it's all in a day's work.
When police suspected human remains were buried on the site of a former children's home in Jersey, the springer spaniel was part of the specialist team brought in to investigate.
Jersey Police said the seven-year-old dog located parts of a child's body even though they were buried under several inches of concrete. So how did he do it?
The dogs are highly trained using scientific techniques which look into how they smell
Eddie is an enhanced victim recovery dog and is specially trained to detect the scent of human remains. He is able to smell through solid materials, like concrete, because of scientific training techniques.
It's this training that sets him apart from standard police sniffer dogs, which are able to detect human remains in shallow graves. The springer's nose is more sensitive and he is called in on more complicated cases.
The specialist training techniques - which are highly confidential - were developed by Eddie's handler Martin Grime, along with the UK's National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and America's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
They are scientifically based and rely on how dogs smell and the chemicals involved.
Dogs are used in hunting because of their sense of smellCanines are known for their outstanding sense of smell, estimated to be 10 times stronger than a human's. Like us they smell using special receptors in the nose, which react to tiny chemical scent particles in the atmosphere and send a message to the brain.
Dogs can smell so well because they have an estimated 200 million such receptors, compared to five million in a human nose. The extra receptors mean canines are able to distinguish between different smells much more acutely.
"We don't discuss what the training involves, but it's a lot more than putting bits of meat on the ground for them to hunt out," says Mr Grime, a retired South Yorkshire Police officer who now works as an independent consultant.
"A standard sniffer dog is like a basic tool. An enhanced dog goes through much more training and is a lot more discriminating about smells, basically its nose is super sensitive. It's also about getting the dog to really focus on a task."
While rare, Eddie and partner Keela are not the only enhanced victim recovery dogs in the UK. The Metropolitan Police and forces in Surrey and Greater Manchester have them. But what sets these two springers apart is that they work exclusively in this field, says Mr Grimes.
WHO, WHAT, WHY?
A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines"Other dogs have to do other police duties but mine work full-time in this area, making them very sharp and highly skilled."
The dogs have been used by police forces across the world and were called in to help with the Madeleine McCann investigation.
Both are springer spaniels, but the breed is no better suited to the job than any other. A dog just needs to show a keen sense of smell and it's the training that makes them good enhanced victim recovery dogs, says Mr Grime.
Eddie was bred by a specialist search-dog breeder and Keela came from the West Midlands Police breeding programme.
Both live with Mr Grime and have a normal life outside of work. He is currently training two new dogs, Morse and Lewis.
In the Jersey case, parts of a child's body were found on Saturday. The remains are thought to date from the early 1980s. Police have yet to say whether they are male or female.