A PRISON dog handler and his faithful companion have swept the board in a national competition for the third year in succession.

Richie Liggins, 44, and his German shepherd, Hadji triumphed in the Prison Service National Trials held at the service college, near Rugby, Warwickshire.

The pair, who normally patrol the grounds of Frankland Prison, on the outskirts of Durham City, won three of the four sections in their category by a comfortable margin and also took the Maunsell Trophy as overall champions.

Among the challenges that Hadji sailed through were a search for hidden property, in which he sniffed out three articles, obedience training, in which he had to respond to Mr Liggins's commands and also agility tests, including clearing a 3ft hurdle and a 9ft long jump.

The four-year-old dog has been with Mr Liggins since he was a puppy. He named the dog after Moroccan footballer Moustapha Hadji, who played for Mr Liggins's beloved Coventry City - only a week before the star midfielder was transferred to arch rivals Aston Villa.

The 44-year-old said: "I didn't hold it against him. He is a very easy dog to work with. He was a bit demanding for the first month - he was always trying it on, but once he got over that, he was willing to learn.

"I am over the moon to have won the title again."

The pair form one of 38 teams at the prison handling patrol dogs, which search the perimeter for potential escapees, and specialist search teams, which hunt for drugs and other unauthorised items in the prison.

Governor Phil Copple said: "It is an excellent achievement for both Richie and Hadji and reflects the extremely hard work and dedication demonstrated by all of the dog handlers and their dogs at HMP Frankland and, indeed, across the whole Prison Service."