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The Baying of the Hounds

Headspace: How the state is leading us by the nose

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"Well, these dogs can smell the smallest trace of a drug on a person. A lot of people take drugs and once the dog has picked up a scent of drugs on them, we have the right to search them. If we find drugs on them we can then search their homes and in their homes we usually find all manner of incriminating articles."

Now I understood. Who needs a warrant when you've got a dog? Restrictions on police powers were being circumvented by a dog's bark. Man's best friend was a Judas. I nodded approvingly at him.

"The Muslims don't like it though," he added. "Or the Chinese." The officer didn't seem particularly upset by this. I thanked him and went on my way.

On my way back from court a few weeks later, I was walking through Clapham Junction station subway when I saw a group of officers with a black dog. The dog handler was tall and chubby with a dirty smile. The officers had stopped to chat amongst themselves just past one of the stairwells. A little black girl stood guarding a suitcase for her mother at the bottom of the steps. The dog kept going over to her case but the handler took no interest. I heard one of the nicer-looking officers ask the handler why it kept going over to her. The handler beamed and laughed. "He can smell she's black can't he?"

Somewhat revolted by this scene I told my mother about it. It didn't faze her at all. "Oh I know," she said. "I have read about it in The Daily Bulletin."

The Daily Bulletin is the local ex-pat paper in Majorca and often contains snippets from Reuters not picked up on elsewhere in the media.

"In fact there is a case going through the courts at the moment in which the police are being sued for training their dogs to go after black people."

Did different races emit distinct odours? It seemed unlikely to me but perhaps nothing could be dismissed as impossible in this strange new world of olfactory policing. There was something unnerving about the prospect of being sniffed by a police dog but I couldn't put my finger on what. Perhaps it was the deeply entrenched cultural association between sniffing and snooping. Inquisitive people have historically been derided for their nosiness. Fed up with the unpaid hours of work required to defend suspects properly, I decided to accept a well-paid office job as a government lawyer in the Court of Appeal. Tracy, a solicitor who had regularly instructed me when I'd worked as a barrister, called me one day out of the blue after I'd been working in the office for several months and we arranged to meet for coffee opposite the Royal Courts of Justice.

"So what are you up to?"

"Bit fed up with the day job – too much administration."

"That's office life."

"I'm thinking of undertaking some legal research into sniffer dogs."

"Really, that will be interesting." She pulled her Gucci sunglasses back over her heavily made up eyes and took a drag on a Benson and Hedges. "My client's wife had a run in with them only yesterday." She passed the packet of cigarettes over to me.

"Do tell," I begged, discarding my slice of cake and resolution to give up smoking and taking one of her Bensons.

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