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RSPCA use CSI-style bone marrow test for first time to prove dog owner drowned pet, court hears

Jamie Johnson
An Akita was found to have been killed by its owner. The dog in this photo was not the dog killed, but is the same breed. - Paul Grover

The RSPCA used a CSI-style bone marrow test for the first time to prove that a dog owner drowned his pet, a court has heard.

Brendan Murphy, 52, claimed his Akita called Tara died of natural causes and he buried the body in woodland in Shropshire.

But when its corpse was found floating in a canal and chained to a breeze block, the RSPCA launched an investigation.

For the first time, the charity employed a tactic more commonly used by the police, in taking bone marrow samples to test for algae - an indicator of drowning.

An expert veterinary witness said that given the evidence, it was their view that the dog had been deliberately killed.

The RSPCA used a new technique to establish the Akita's cause of death Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

The technique was used as a last resort because the usual signs of drowning were not visible due to the state of decomposition of the Akita’s body. The RSPCA said they would consider using it again if they believed they could secure a conviction.

Bone marrow testing for drowning has long been used by the police. In the US, as far back as 1996, a murderer was caught after algae found on his clothes matched that of his female victim who had been strangled and drowned.

Diatoms recovered from the victim’s bone marrow were different from the water supply at her home but could not be ruled out from the scene of the crime. During the investigation, diatoms collected from the suspect’s wallet and shoes provided a link to the drowning site, helping to solve the case, according to media outlet The Conversation.

Chester Magistrate's Court heard the dog was discovered in the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich, Cheshire, on October 6 last year.

The RSPCA was called to the scene and the body was taken to a vets, where a postmortem examination was undertaken.

The results revealed that the dog had been suffering from a lung disease for a number of weeks and that she had been stabbed twice before her body entered the canal, around three weeks prior to her discovery.

The dog's microchip confirmed Murphy was Tara's owner but he claimed it died from natural causes.

He said that he paid his respects to the dog by visiting the site a few times, but said around two weeks later her body had been dug up.

But because algae was present in the dog's bone marrow an expert veterinary witness told the court she believed that: “Tara was alive when she was placed in the canal and that she was deliberately anchored down with a length of chain.

"The cause of death in Tara is hence in my expert opinion drowning."

Murphy was handed a ten-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, banned from keeping animals for ten-years and ordered to pay £300 costs and a £115 victim surcharge.