Gary Platt, who has been based in Lebanon and the Hague, went from being a detective constable for Hampshire Constabulary to investigating a political assassination in the Middle East.
Gary Platt has had an exciting, jet-setting career since leaving the police in 2014, regularly flying between the UK to Lebanon, where he has been based as part of his work for the United Nations.
He is currently one of a duo of UN staffers responsible for communications evidence presented at a special tribunal relating to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.
A former Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr Hariri died in a car bombing in Beirut in 2005. Five men are currently accused of involvement in the assassination at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where Gary himself is now living while the case is ongoing.
The tribunal is highly unusual – since the men have not been arrested, no pleas have been entered, and the court has taken the virtually unprecedented step of trying them in absentia.
Speaking from the Hague this week, Gary, 55, said he could not discuss the specifics of the case, but he told PoliceOracle.com he feels lucky to have landed the much sought after position with the UN – a job he actually started doing while on a career break from Hampshire Constabulary in 2010.
“The opportunity arose and I took it,” he said. “It wasn’t planned. It was a big leap into the unknown.”
The trial at the International Criminal Court has already been ongoing for a year. “International justice takes a long time,” said Gary. “This trial’s been going on 18 months now and we’re not even halfway through.”
While in the police – his career as an officer lasted almost two decades – Gary developed a taste for, and expertise in, handling complex telecommunications evidence. He says his hero is Lester Freamon, the fictional police officer and phones detective in US TV series The Wire.
Virtually self-taught, he quickly became considered such an expert in this field that he was seconded to the Met’s anti-terror squad to work on its investigation into the London bombings of 2005.
A detective constable, he travelled to India as part of Hampshire Constabulary’s investigation into the murder of British student Hannah Foster, which resulted in the conviction of Maninder Pal Singh Kohli.
The experience of working in different jurisdictions perhaps served as a useful prelude to his work for the UN.
“It does deepen your understanding of how these countries operate and different worlds and societies,” he said. “It gets you to understand, and probably appreciate, the situations going on at the moment in various parts of the world more than the average person in the UK would.
“It is a very complicated situation out there in the Middle East. Even this attack [the assassination of Rafiq Hariri] is relevant to the situation in the Middle East and Syria.”
Phones evolved greatly during Gary’s time in the police.
“When we first started we didn’t have Skype or anything like that,” he said. “Telephone intelligence was used by the police almost as soon as the technology came out, but it wasn’t really used as an evidential product until around the year 2000.
“It was still quite a new thing then but it’s really exploded in the last few years. In around 2005 things really started to change with the growth of 3G.
“In the UK people had an idea of what a mobile phone was, what a sim card was, what a handset was and what the various pinlocks were, and then developed an understanding of cell sites showing where their phones were located, but in the early years it took a while to make them understand the evidential value of all this,” he said.
“I have found that abroad this kind of evidence hasn’t been used as extensively as it has in the UK. Certainly on an evidential basis we are having to do a lot of explaining about how this evidence is used. It’s almost a new science for some people.”
Phone data was “just something I was interested in”, he says. “At the start it was new and it was a very powerful piece of evidence, a very powerful tool. It was almost a tracking device in a sense, but there are also issues to consider like attributing of phones.
“You need to be aware of and things like techniques for camouflaging people’s movements.
“The phone could be given to another person – a bank robber might give his phone to a friend to go and use for a day, so that while he’s robbing a bank in London, his phone is in Southend. That sort of thing.”
The former officer, who recently got a Master’s degree in international law, said that for any detectives wanting to work for the UN on war crimes cases, having sought after and finely tuned skills was vita.
“It’s a very competitive field,” he said. “You have hundreds and hundreds of people applying for jobs all around the world, and because it’s the UN sometimes there has to be a balanced representation from different nations.
“If I didn’t have the skills I have, I wouldn’t have got a job in the UN, certainly not at this level. It’s difficult as a basic investigator as well to get a job.”
Despite the smartphone era, criminals still use “disposable phones” – just like in The Wire – and Gary prefers his old, battered Nokia to a fancy android or iPhone, saying it is far more durable and reliable.
In terms of investigations, he says the key is to pick up on when suspects have “dropped the ball”.
“It’s the same with any investigation,” he said. “No matter how pre-planned or organised a group is and how militaristic they are in their approach to operations, we’re talking about human beings and individuals. Somewhere along the way someone will be stupid.
“It could be that their usual mobile phone runs out of battery and they think a one off call from their ‘business’ phone won’t hurt. On occasions we had people ordering pizza to be delivered to a bomb factory - something stupid like that.
“It’s amazing these one off examples of people leaving themselves open. No matter how many precautious they take, invariably somewhere along the way they’ll get something wrong.”