Foreman trial: sniffer dog points to bedhead

A trained accelerant detection dog repeatedly honed in on the same small area when searching the house of slain Wollongong solicitor Katie Foreman just hours after the October 2011 fire that claimed her life, a court has heard.

Fire and Rescue NSW Station Officer and canine handler Phillip Etienne told a Supreme Court jury yesterday that the dog, a golden labrador named Sheeba, repeatedly took him to the head of Ms Foreman's bed when she was deployed into the master bedroom to search for the presence of accelerants.

The court previously heard samples taken from the skirting board and carpet behind the bed tested positive for petrol.

Officer Etienne explained that Sheeba, one of only two accelerant detection dogs in Australia, was taught to give out an "alert" signal - going into a sitting position - when she detected an area containing accelerant.

When told by the handler "show me", she would then push her nose towards the specific area of origin, known as "indicating", Officer Etienne said.

He said Sheeba was able to detect five accelerants and could sniff out as little as 0.5 micro-litres of a substance, the equivalent of the size of a pin head.

However, he also said she would seek out the strongest concentration of accelerant in a search site.

"If there's a pin drop, a thimble and a cup of accelerant in the same room, she's going to go for the cup," he said.

The court heard Officer Etienne and Sheeba arrived at Ms Foreman's home just before 6am on the morning the fire occurred and did not leave until 4pm.

The pair spent the day repeatedly searching both inside and outside the house for traces of accelerants.

Officer Etienne said Sheeba detected an accelerant on two steps of the staircase during her first deployment into the house.

He explained that each time she made an indication of accelerant, she was removed from the house and given a break, before being sent back in again.

On her second entry into the house, the pair headed to the upstairs bedroom, the origin of the fire, where Sheeba eventually led Officer Etienne to the bedhead and "indicated" that was the site in the room that contained the strongest concentration of accelerant.

He said, however, that she also gave "alert" signals near the entrance to the bedroom and in the north-eastern corner of the room.

When asked why Sheeba didn't "indicate" in both those areas, Officer Etienne said it was either because she couldn't locate the origin (of the accelerant) or had detected a stronger scent and moved on, namely to the bedhead.

The court heard Sheeba had been deployed at least three times to sniff for possible accelerants on Ms Foreman's body. However, she had not detected any.

Officer Etienne said that based on Sheeba's lack of indication, he believed there was no petrol on Ms Foreman's body when she died.

However, he also accepted that if a smaller amount of accelerant was on her body it might have been missed by Sheeba but still detected in laboratory tests.

The trial continues.

Slain Wollongong lawyer Katie Foreman.

Slain Wollongong lawyer Katie Foreman.