An interview with HMP Thameside’s Top Dogs

Like every prison in the UK, there in an ongoing battle to stop illicit goods from getting into establishments. Contraband such as synthetic psychoactive substances “Spice” and smuggled or produced alcohol “hooch” play a damaging role in destabilizing the prison regime and stymieing the rehabilitation of prisoners, particularly those with a history of substance abuse.

Even though recent technology has improved the way prisons can detect and prevent contraband getting into the prison, one of the most valuable and effective detectors of illegal good goes to humble and loyal detection dogs.

HMP Thameside, a category B remand prison located In South-East London is home to two detection dogs, Bailey and Isla. We asked Resettlement Manager, Toni to interview Bailey and Isla about their history and experience working in one of London’s busiest prisons.

Toni: Hi Bailey & Isla, thanks for giving up your time to let me interview you properly today.  Can you tell our readers how long you have worked at HMP Thameside and what do you do here?  

Bailey: I started working at HMP Thameside in February 2017. At work, I am an active search dog, which means I search areas, buildings, rooms, post, car park….basically everywhere.  

Isla: I started working at the prison in November 2018. At work, I am a passive search dog, which means I search visitors and staff coming into the prison.  

Toni: Great, and what were you doing before you came to Thameside?  

Bailey: I have a bit of a history. I was at the HMPPS North West Area search team, which covers 10 prisons up north, as a search & hooch dog. Prior to that, I was trained at Yorkshire Police.  

Isla: I don’t have as much experience as Bailey. Prior to employment here, my former home was the Battersea Dogs Home in London. I was abused by my previous owners and living in the Dogs Home looking for a new owner when PCO Jack & PCO Katie found me and took me in. Jack said he was drawn to me because of my drive to work, my intelligence and my lovable character.  

Toni: We’re so glad your different paths brought you to us. What was your first day like at the prison? 

Bailey: I first met PCO Jack Hine at HMP Kirkham, where he was completing an Active Search course. One of the trainers there assigned me to Jack and we completed the 4-week initial active course together which resulted in me being licenced. When I came to HMP Thameside, I was thrown straight into the deep end. I started searching areas, perimeters, post and then some!  Quite honestly, Jack wouldn’t have been able to do it without me.  His nose isn’t up to the job and his senses not as well-honed, but I helped him along.

Isla: After PCOs Katie and Jack found me, I was taken up to HMP Kirkham to be evaluated to determine my suitability for the role. I was given the okay and had to complete a 6-week course. My course was longer than Bailey’s because my role is to search people and there are more layers to that training. I am still trained to find drugs, just not tobacco and Subutex. Jack was with me at HMP Kirkham and I passed first time which I was proud of. I did a longer course AND I had less work experience than Bailey (doggy high five).  If only my mum could see me now!

Toni: Who is your favourite Dog handler and why? 

Bailey: PCO Ryan as he shows me a lot of love. He walks with me, plays with me at work and in his garden, which is such a lovely de-stress after a day at the ‘office’.  

Isla: Probably PCO Jack. He rescued me and we spend a lot of time together.  After my early start, having a friend is so nice.

Toni: What would you say is your best skill? 

Bailey: I am very determined – not a quitter! NOTHING can be hidden from me. Ryan has tried, but I always find it. Ryan wrapped cocaine in seven envelopes then hid it amongst the post in a box that was covered with more post, and I still found it! I can’t take all the credit though, the Dog Handlers at HMP Thameside are really good and they trained me so well.

Isla: I am very gentle, and I adopt a calm approach when it comes to searching people. I cannot be too forceful when searching or I will get done for assault. Even when I am searching staff members that fear dogs, I manage to keep them calm during the process. 

Toni: Now I know that you are both valued colleagues here at Thameside, particularly within Security. What would you say your biggest find has been? 

Bailey: I was featured in a national newspaper (the Sun) for finding 32 pages of spice/NPS fluid-soaked letters back in June 2017. But my biggest find was in June 2020 when I found a 313-sheet book which was soaked in spice/NPS fluid. This would have had a prison value of £93,600 (contraband is much more expensive in prison that it is in the community, and the prices have increased during Covid). Fact – Since 27 April this year, I have found 689 sheets of spice with a prison value of £206,700 and this does not include other drugs and only reflects my finds from post. Impressive, I know!!  

Isla: I am not able to boast about finds… If I indicate a visitor having drugs on them, they are asked to leave the prison immediately. But if I indicate on staff, Security or the Police will carry out a full search on that staff member.  

Toni: Thanks Isla, but wow Bailey – that’s amazing! Have you received any recognition for these finds? 

Bailey: I just received a Letter of Appreciation from the Director for finds I made in July 2020. I got a signed letter from the Director and my handler got some vouchers (to spend on treats for me I am sure!). 

Isla: I just do my job and I enjoy it. I don’t need an award to tell me how good I am! I haven’t been able to work since Covid-19 but thankfully I haven’t been put on furlough! I can’t really search people while maintaining social distancing - but happy to be able to come to work every day to keep up with everyone. 

Toni: Okay, I think we have got some really good information on you both now. Do you have a random fact about you that you think your readers would like to know? 

Bailey:  Prisoners at HMP Thameside put a hit on me for £20,000. £20,000?!! I was quite offended – I’m worth at least double that!!  I’m two years from retirement now at eight years old (56 in human years) and I love being cuddled so I hope that once I give up the job, I will have the chance to get lots more of those.

Isla: I don’t really have a random fact just a bit more history and some thanks to Serco. I was mistreated by my previous owners. They sort of left me in a cupboard most of the time. When I was rescued and taken in by the Thameside Dog Handlers, I could not stand properly because my muscles hadn’t formed properly since my owners didn’t take me for walks. A bit sad, but now I have a great job thanks to Serco! I have an important career and a home that I love!  

Thanks Toni, to our roving reporter for Thameside!