POLICE sniffer dogs trained to spot terrorists at railway stations may no longer come into contact with Muslim passengers – after complaints that it is against the suspects’ religion.
A report for the Transport Department has raised the prospect that the animals should only touch passengers’ luggage because it is considered “more acceptable”.In the Muslim faith, dogs are deemed to be spiritually “unclean”. But banning them from touching passengers would severely restrict their ability to do their job.
The report follows trials of station security measures in the wake of the 2005 London suicide bomb attacks. In one trial, some female Muslims said the use of a body scanner was also unacceptable because it was tantamount to being forced to strip.
British Transport Police last night insisted it would still use sniffer dogs – which are trained to detect explosives – with any passengers regardless of faith, but handlers would remain aware of “cultural sensitivities”.
Critics said the complaints were just the latest example of minority religions trying to force their rules and morals on British society.Tory MP Philip Davies said: “As far as I am concerned, everyone should be treated equally in the face of the law and we cannot have people of different religious groups laying the law down. I hope the police will go about their business as they would do normally.”
News of the security setback came as the Government yesterday admitted that installing 100 per cent airport-style screening at rail and Tube stations was “not feasible”.
Instead extra sniffer dogs and X-ray machines will be used to search passengers.During the trials, passengers stopped in London had the exterior of their bags checked by dogs. But in Brighton, dogs patrolled the station concourse and were walked past passengers by their handlers.
The report concluded: “The use of sniffer dogs was generally problematic for Muslim respondents on religious grounds if there was the potential for the dog to make direct contact with them.”
When Muslims have washed for certain forms of worship, they would have to repeat the ritual if they came into contact with a dog.One young Asian man told researchers: “We are not supposed to have dogs. It is against our religion.”
Another Asian man said: “I don’t mind dogs in the park or walking near me, but sniffer dogs? I don’t think that’s right, on the station, the way they use them.”
Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, said even dogs touching baggage would be an issue for a Muslim preparing to pray. But he stressed that it should be easy to allow dogs to check passengerswithout physical contact.
“There is a way of dealing with this and we just need to be sensitive,” he said.
In another trial on the Heathrow Express platform at Paddington station in London, there were instances when the body scan – which creates an image on a monitor – was considered unacceptable by female Muslims, the report said.
One Muslim woman complained: “Sometimes I wear clothing which is not so tight. It will be shown on (the monitor) and somebody is looking at it. It defeats the whole purpose of me covering up.”The report, on five rail security trials in 2006, also showed that some Asians and black people felt they could be selected for tests because of their ethnicity.
A Transport Department spokesman said the use of sniffer dogs was a matter for the police. But he stressed that the report was only a conclusion of passengers’ views.
A British Transport Police spokesman said sniffer dogs would continue to be used with any passenger but officers would be considerate where appropriate.He added: “We are obviously aware of, and sensitive to, cultural sensitivities. BTP officers do have the power to stop and search anyone under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.
“This also covers the use of dog handlers and dogs, which are used to ‘indicate’ any substance they have been trained to detect.
“As a force we obviously look at any or all feedback about how people from all faiths and backgrounds view the use of dogs, and how we can incorporate that into how the dogs and their handlers interact with people.”
Announcing new security measures to screen Tube and mainline rail passengers, the Government said yesterday that surveys had shown the public would be unlikely to accept major delays to journeys.
People also wanted to ensure their personal privacy was protected.
British Transport Police said it was enhancing its existing stop and search capabilities with the use of X-ray equipment for screening bags, along with the deployment of more sniffer dogs. It said a proportion of passengers and their bags would be searched with minimal delay and inconvenience to the public.
Transport Minister Tom Harris said: “We will continue to work with British Transport Police and rail operators to assess the effectiveness and impact of these new measures.
“We will use this evidence, and that from elsewhere in the UK and abroad, to develop further ways of keeping the travelling public secure using proportionate measures.”