Amputated human legs could be used in experiments to see if they help police dogs find victims’ bodies for the first time in the UK.
Scientific trials are due to take place next month at Porton Down if the plans are approved, the PA news agency understands.
Lower limbs removed in surgery and donated by consenting, living hospital patients with conditions like diabetes are expected to be used to see if the dogs can tell the difference between animal and human remains, according to Government sources.
The dogs are typically trained to search for the bodies of missing people using pig flesh. But, without training using human tissue, there is a risk dogs may miss victims who could have been found.
It is understood the project involving several teams of police dogs is set to take place at the high security research site near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, in October.
It is thought dogs will be offered a mix of decomposed animal and human scent samples to test whether they can identify the difference.
Ethical approval from the Health Research Authority (HRA) is legally required for the research – commissioned by the Home Office – before it can start.
The application is currently being reviewed by the body with an update expected in the coming days, an HRA spokeswoman said. The HRA has been told the project has been reviewed by the Ministry of Defence’s research ethics committee, she added.
If successful, the trial could lead to changes in government policy on how police dogs are trained. It comes as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) is reviewing dog training practices.
A source told PA: “This is the first time research of this kind would be carried out in the UK and it could be groundbreaking if it shows using human flesh in training can help dogs find more missing victims.
“The work even has the potential to pave the way for the country to have its first body farm.”
A body farm is a research facility which studies the decomposition of human corpses. There are several in the United States of America, one in Australia and another in the Netherlands – thought to be the only one in Europe – but none so far in the UK.
A statement from the Home Office said: “We have commissioned a pilot to understand whether the training of victim detection dogs can be enhanced.
“Studies of this nature are vital to evolve our capabilities to protect the public and bring offenders to justice.”
The NPCC said it would not comment on the project and regulator the Human Tissue Authority has been contacted for comment.