In summer 1996 fisherman John Copik recovered a man's body in the English channel, which was later identified as Robert Platt by the Rolex watch on his wrist. It was eventually discovered that he was murdered by Albert Walker, a Canadian man who had previously stolen Platt's identity. Walker was found guilty of Platt's murder in 1998.
Det. Supt. Phil Sincock spoke to CI about his involvement in solving the Platt's murder, and gave his insight into the mind of Albert Walker:
He was a master conman
How long did it take the police to discover that Albert Walker was Robert Platt's murderer?
We didn't actually find out who he was until weeks after he'd been charged and was in custody awaiting trial. He had an identity of David Davis and ... then obviously when he took over the identity of Robert Platt by persuading [the real Robert Platt] to emigrate to Canada.
The whole thing revolved around the fact that when the real Ronald Platt returned homeless and penniless he looked to his old friend David Davis to help him and of course David Davis was now masquerading as Robert Platt. That was one Platt too many if you like, so he had to get rid of him.
When we conducted the investigation we looked into the identity of David Davis because that didn't appear to be a true identity and in fact the only record of a David Wallace Davis related to a person who left the country in 1945 and never returned. It did transpire that while in Canada while he was ripping off people there for millions of pounds he got ahold of a birth certificate of a person called David Davis so that's what he was using as a sort of flimsy identity when he first came to this country before he met the unfortunate Mr Ronald Platt.
Albert Walker was something of a swindler. Once you began to unravel who he was, what insight did you get in to his mentality?
He was a master conman. I suppose you could also call him a bit of a Walter Mitty. He was a bit of a failure at college but he went around trying to give the impression of being an academic. He worked as a labourer at a fruit and veg place but told everyone he owned the place. He was an assistant librarian but he told everyone he was a professor - so he had a long history of pretending to be somebody he wasn't and he did seem to be extremely talented at conning people.
In Canada he was experienced because he gave this appearance of a well-rounded family man when in actual fact he was a swindler and also not that respectable, certainly when he came to this country. When he was in custody awaiting trial we had a bail application and the two people who put up money for him were prison officers who he had conned into thinking he was an innocent, good guy.
The murder weapon, the boat in this case, was in the police headquarters awaiting trial, and he actually managed to sell that to another inmate for £400 while he was in custody. He went into the witness box and gave evidence because he was pretty confident that he would be able to con the jury into thinking he was innocent. Unfortunately he faced a good jury who could see through him.
Is it unusual for a suspect to give evidence at a trial?
It's certainly the case that most defence lawyers will try and dissuade their clients from actually going itto the witness box and giving evidence because of course that means that you're then available for the prosecution to cross-examine you. They can hit you with all the strong evidential points against you. The majority of (the cases I've worked on) the defendant doesn't go in to the witness box on legal advice.
It was a mistake going in to the witness box (on Albert Walker's part) because a very skilled QC really dismantled him and put all the strong points against him and revealed him to the jury for what he was which was a conman and ultimately a murderer.
How was Ronald Platt still in possession of a Rolex if he came back from Canada penniless?
Ronald Platt was a man who was a very proud guy but life had not been very kind to him. He was almost a bit of a doormat the poor guy. He didn't really own much of anything else but he acquired this second-hand Rolex watch and it was his prized possession that he valued over everything else; and probably just as well he did because that set the whole chain of events in to motion.
It was a sort of one in a million shot that his body was recovered from the sea six miles out in an area that is not trawled by many trawlers. You think of the enormity of the sea, it was a one in a million shot that he was dragged in by the nets. Because he was such a loner with so few family, he was never reported missing by anybody and it was a real mystery to the police.
It wasn't until some weeks in to the enquiry that we discovered that Rolex kept these really accurate records of every watch they sold or repaired and that was directly how we identified him as Robert Platt.
Was this one of the most difficult cases in your career to crack?
I think this was the most unusual case I've ever had. It was a real almost Agatha Christie storyline. It's one of those cases that comes along only once in your career. If you wrote a fictional script with the ins and outs that happened in this case, nobody would believe it – it would seem too farfetched.