How hero dog caught Australia’s most wanted
AS A member of the NSW Police Dog Unit, Luke Warburton has faced many challenges, from attacks on his dogs to a terrifying emergency room shooting that almost claimed his own life.
Through it all the incredible bond between dog and handler never wavered, and he describes one animal, "next level" police dog Chuck, as "like one of my kids".
In this edited extract from Warburton's memoir, Man's Best Friend, we join him and Chuck on their most high-profile mission of all - the dangerous pursuit of Australia's most wanted man, double killer Malcolm Naden, who had gone bush and evaded police for seven years, shooting one officer just the year before.
Read the extract below:
FOR Chuck and me this was what it was all about - catching crooks. I had been working with Chuck for about two years by this stage and we had a great understanding of each other. We relished being part of this massive manhunt, being on the frontline. Chuck absolutely loved running through the bush seeking a scent - all the police dogs did. It wasn't a walk in the park - let me assure you, these were hard yards. It was December, bang in the middle of summer. The humidity in the scrub was unbelievable.
Racing through the bush and across swollen rivers was all part of the daily grind. Both Chuck and I would be covered with bloodsucking leeches and ticks, but it didn't slow Chuck down. It was such a vast area and we were receiving all this intel and we were constantly hoping that Chuck, or one of the other dogs, would pick up that crucial scent. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Here we were spending day in, day out in the bush and we were unable to pick up a track on Naden's scent. Chuck wasn't getting the rewards he was trained on, but it didn't appear to worry him. He seemed to thrive simply on the hunt, despite being out there all day, hot and sticky. None of us was comfortable, but for Chuck it was still good fun - absolutely good fun.
It never ceased to amaze me just how dense this bushland could be. At one point I had Chucky on his working line, which I had extended to about two and a half metres. The bush was so thick, I couldn't see him at the end of that lead. It's possible that we could have come within metres of Naden and not even known it. When the TOU (Tactical Operations Unit) officer was shot, the search party didn't know how close they were to Naden. From memory, they were seven to ten metres from him when he opened fire and they still couldn't pinpoint exactly where he was.
A regular day consisted of getting up at 6am, having breakfast and getting to work at 7am, and that happened every day for months. Work began with a briefing to determine the search patterns and the area we'd be assigned. Then we'd head bush and remain out there for eight to ten hours each day. And if there was another sighting just as we were about to knock off, we'd be deployed again.
Barrington Tops really is a beautiful part of the world. Some mornings we'd rise to find a dense mist enveloping the command post. But it is as unforgiving as it is beautiful. We were lucky - we didn't get a lot of rain, but there was the occasional downpour and we'd be trudging through the scrub hot, wet and miserable in our camouflage gear.
And then there were the flies and the mosquitoes. If you think about someone going out camping for the weekend in the worst possible terrain you can imagine, well, that was pretty much what we were walking through for three or four months. So, yes, we'd curse Malcolm Naden while reminding ourselves that he was a desperate fugitive.
Our teams consisted of six or eight TOU or SPSU (State Protection Support Unit) officers, a couple of dog handlers and a paramedic from SCAT (Special Casualty Access Team) - it did give us a feeling of safety in numbers. But it was always in the back of our mind that Naden was prepared to take a shot. He had broken into properties and stolen firearms, so we knew he was armed and, clearly, that he was prepared to use those weapons. This was very unlike most of the jobs the Dog Unit gets called to, which involve searching buildings that may have an armed offender inside by yourself. At least in this operation there was plenty of back-up.
I remember the night of 22 March 2012 very well. We had been out all day and had come back to Gloucester, showered and were at the pub having dinner. All of a sudden one of the TOU cars went flying past, heading towards the command post. It didn't take Einstein to figure out something was up and, sure enough, a couple of minutes later the lead SPSU guy's mobile phone rang. He hung up and declared, 'Job's on, head back, get changed and shoot up to the command post.'
Intelligence had been received regarding a hut about thirty kilometres out of Gloucester, so we were going to roll out and investigate. I think we were all a little sceptical, but then again it was odd that this intelligence would come in at 8pm. It might mean that Naden was looking for some shelter. But we had had so many false sightings. At any rate, we all rolled out and got into our allocated teams.
We pulled up about three or four kilometres short of the hut and began to walk in on foot. By this stage it was probably about 9.30 or 10pm. All three dogs came on the operation. There was a full team of eight or ten TOU officers and a full team of eight or ten SPSU officers, as well as the SCATs and the three dog handlers. From memory there would have been twenty to twenty-five TOU and SPSU officers.
We crept in under the cover of darkness using nightvision goggles, following a track towards the hut. This was a place we had not been to before, so we were relying on the TOU using maps to navigate. Silence was paramount.
We couldn't make a sound. When we were about halfway in we walked through a paddock full of cattle, which we thought the dogs might've reacted to, but they just didn't seem to care. For them this was game on. I reckon they sensed this was the big one. All three of them did a terrific job and did not make a sound. But there was a bull in that paddock that wasn't too pleased with the late-night disturbance … I later heard that he kicked up a bit of a stink at the front, but that seemed to fizzle out. I had no idea how big a problem that bull was because I was towards the back of the conga line.
As we got closer to the hut we could smell a fire burning. It was then that we felt that we might be on to something, but, then again, the hut's owner could have come up to do some hunting. Soon we could see the glow of the fire through the hut's window. We were certain that someone was home and that someone could be Malcolm Naden.
Everything then played in slow motion. Every step had to be carefully placed. Silence is the key to surprise. Very slowly we surrounded the hut and were deciding our next move: should we just storm in or call on whoever was inside to come out? Suddenly a man appeared at the back door. He just stood there taking a piss, gazing at the night sky.
It was at that moment that one of the SPSU guys I was with accidentally trod on a piece of corrugated iron. Poor bugger had no idea it was there. But that was enough to spook our target. With that, he bolted back through the hut and made for the front door. As he's exited the shack the TOU guys challenged him to stop. You could see he was tossing up whether to run or not. Luckily, he had failed to grab the rifle that was later found in the hut.
I was the closest dog handler to Naden at the time. Knowing he had run previously I went in and gave Chucky the command to grab hold of Naden's leg. At the same time, a couple of TOU guys were wrestling him to the ground.
We wanted to make sure he wasn't going anywhere.
'Dog, dog, dog,' I shouted as Chuck went to work. Chucky was totally up for it. This was all unfolding very quickly and to restrain Chucky - and stop him accidentally biting one of the TOU guys - I had hold of him by his neck and muzzle. In his eagerness to get in amongst it, Chucky took a bite at my left wrist. I couldn't blame him - this was a very hyped-up situation and the adrenaline was flowing through everyone's veins, including his. I can definitely vouch that this dog had strong jaws!
So I took him off my arm and redeployed him onto Naden. Chucky went straight in and grabbed hold of Naden's right calf, and maintained his bite until the TOU guys had Naden handcuffed. It was only then that I gave Chucky the command to back off.
Whenever you deploy your dog, you want to make sure you have the right person - I was 99.9 per cent sure it was Naden, but you always have this thought in the back of your mind that it might be just some innocent bloke.
One of the TOU boys was shouting, 'What's your name? What's your name?'
The reply: 'Malcolm … Malcolm Naden.'
Obviously, there was a fair bit of cheering and highfiving at that point - we had got our man. And then Naden said, 'Thank God it's over.' After almost seven years on the run I think he'd had enough. But it was a strange comment because he had had plenty of opportunities to walk into a local police station and hand himself in.
He stank. That unwashed, dirty smell was just horrendous - the worst I've ever smelt. He was obviously unkempt, but his speech wasn't too bad for someone who had been on the run for so long and probably hadn't spoken to anyone in almost seven years. In fact, he was quite polite.
He was not what I expected at all.
On the way back into town at about 3am. I realised that perhaps Chucky had done more damage to my wrist than I first thought. Soon both Naden and I were being treated at Gloucester Hospital. Naden had a large chunk out of his right calf and I had a suspected broken wrist which had to be plastered. Naden was far worse off: he had to go into surgery and had part of his calf removed before he was stitched up. On the TV news that night I saw Naden as he was led, handcuffed and shackled, from the hospital - and there on his right calf was a big bandage. Well done, Chucky.
All the police and paramedics did a terrific job that night. It was a team effort with everyone doing their allocated tasks as required. The TOU, SPSU, detectives and dog handlers all worked as an elite, professional group to achieve the end result without significant injury to anyone.
I was so proud of Chucky. We had spent an exhausting week searching this rugged terrain, but when it was game time Chucky was well and truly up for it. He had done everything I asked him to do and probably more. He was a brilliant dog. I reckon dogs know when they have pleased their owners or their handlers. They have that sixth sense - I have no doubt about that. That night Chucky got an extra bone to gnaw on and, with the media getting hold of the story, he soon became a celebrity.
• This is an edited extract from Man's Best Friend by Luke Warburton with Simon Bouda, published by Hachette Australia, available August 6. RRP $32.99