Dog trainer who has hunted for Fred West murder victims and people killed by IRA hit squads

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From a suspected Fred West crime scene to the scattered graves of IRA victims, David Jones has found himself at a host of gruesome locations trying to solve cases over the years.

The Penmaenmawr veteran has led dog teams across the globe looking for missing people and, sadly, bodies be they victims of murderers, natural disasters or suicides. He and his team’s dogs were called on to search for a young man in the Republic of Ireland only this week.

But while David, who runs the firm UK-K9 Training for Excellence, does that work voluntarily he is paid to train overseas police forces, mountain rescue teams and others in using dogs’ powerful sense of smell to sniff for the scent of corpses within rubble or even over water. So highly-valued is he that he’s even been made an Honorary Captain in the Spanish Army.

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And he’ll be sharing his expertise at a two-day international forensic investigation conference in Wrexham Glyndwr University, called “From Death to Discovery” on February 4 to February 5, by giving a cadaver dog demonstration.

Reflecting on his career, he told North Wales Live: “The first big earthquake I went to was in El Salvador in 1986. I was the first from Britain to take a dog abroad for that kind of work.”

One of the teams searching for a missing young man in Ireland this week
One of the teams searching for a missing young man in Ireland this week
(Image: UK-K9 Training for Excellence)

The magnitude 5.7 quake caused between 1,000 and 1,500 deaths, 10,000 injuries and left 200,000 people homeless. Since then he has been to the scene of scores of natural disasters worldwide.

But he has also helped with probes into man made tragedies, including looking for IRA victims in makeshift graves in the Republic of Ireland, mainly from the 1970s during The Troubles.

He said: “The big one we did was work with the Commission for the Disappeared in Ireland, which was part of the peace process. There were 39 bodies over three years. They were mainly IRA members killed by the IRA for double crossing them.”

His dog team found some of those remains. Other agencies unearthed remains using forensics or ground-penetrating radar.

Chillingly, some IRA victims had fled to France but still couldn’t escape vengeance and were killed and buried there. David didn’t go to France but his colleagues did as part of this important task.

More recently, David’s team were asked to go to Gloucestershire after a report that a piece of blue fabric – potentially from clothing of a victim of serial killer Fred West – had been discovered in a cafe cellar.

There was a theory in 2021 that “possible evidence” suggesting the body of teenager Mary Bastholm, who disappeared in 1968, might be buried at the Clean Plate cafe in Gloucester.

David said: “We had to drill holes and put the dogs on them. The dog indicated there was fabric and they put cameras down but unfortunately there was no body – just clothing.” Gloucestershire Police confirmed at the time that no human remains were found there.

But David will be going back to continue his work in the county at other potential sites. He said: “The people I work for have to get permission to dig up people’s land.”

Fred West was convicted of killing at least 12 people from 1967 to 1987. He committed suicide in prison on January 1, 1995, aged 53.

As for the present, David has just returned from looking for a missing young man in the Republic of Ireland. They were searching the River Shannon at Carrick on Shannon. Nothing was found.

Next month, David’s UK-K9 training for Excellence company is joining fellow hosts Wrexham Glyndwr University to run an international conference at the campus, where he will be giving his cadaver dog demonstration. Other specialists will give talks on botany, entomology, analysis of trauma and use of CT imaging.

The keynote speaker will be Professor Ben Alexander who trains human remains detection dogs at the Forensic Anthropology Center in Texas.

Amy Rattenbury, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at hosts Wrexham Glyndwr University, said: “This event is an extremely important one as it is an opportunity for professionals in the field and academics in the lab to sit down and work collaboratively.

“We need to know the challenges faced during case work as much as search dog handlers need to understand how bodies decompose and scenes of crime officers need to be able to assist with the recovery of human remains.

“The international perspective is also key as there are years of experience in this area and opportunities to conduct research which is just not currently possible in the UK. Bringing all that to North Wales is very exciting and I hope fosters more collaboration and growth in the future.”

Attendees can also participate in workshops on forensic archaeology and anthropology.

The event is open to anyone with an interest in the topic although is not suitable for children due to the sensitive nature of the content to be covered.

* The conference called From Death to Discovery will be held at Wrexham Glyndwr University on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5. To book a place visit eventbrite.co.uk/e/379880461687

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