Local Folk - Chris Martin

From tracking down the people behind the Rainbow Warrior sinking to catching a petty thief in Warkworth, Chris Martin takes a lot of pride in protecting his community. The owner  of the security firm Insite draws on a lifetime of police experience to work his way out of a situation and solve any crime. He spoke to Ben Donaldson …

It was 2am when I got a call to say a ship had exploded in Auckland Harbour. I had only just got back from Australia that night, after bringing back someone who had escaped the country while on bail. I was exhausted, but for the next 36 hours straight I worked on trying to establish how the Rainbow Warrior was sunk. At 22, I had only been a police detective for a year. It became clear very quickly, though, that it was no accident and when a body was found on board it turned in to a homicide investigation. I was tasked with retrieving pubic hair from the French agents, Prieur and Mafart, who were prime suspects. I used their bed sheets to get the samples, and the hair matched. They were both retained and charged.

In hindsight, they probably would have escaped the country if they had not hung around to collect a false refund voucher from the rental company where they hired their van. Unfortunately, three likely suspects did get away on a yacht, so I was sent with a team to Norfolk Island to stop them. Under the law, we could only hold the men for 24 hours. The interviews weren’t easy with my schoolboy French and their schoolboy English. We also had just one gun between six of us, so we took turns wearing it during interviews so that they thought we were all armed. To be honest, had they wanted to escape I don’t think we could have stopped them.  We were unable to bring them in anyway, as we ran out of time to secure sufficient evidence against them before we had to release them.

It was an exciting case to be involved in. Ever since I was at high school I wanted to be out in the force. I grew up in Ponsonby back when nobody wanted to live there, before moving to Balmoral, where I went to Marcellin College. I played some First XV rugby, but our team was always the smallest and one day I got punched out cold by the Auckland school’s shotput champion. I applied for the police at 16 and got told to come back in a year’s time, which broke my heart. I was accepted at 17 and did my training at Trentham. It was still set up with barracks like a World War I camp and things were tough. After graduating, I spent six months at Auckland Central. I made a few drug-related arrests and they called me in to see if I fancied becoming an undercover cop. I grabbed the opportunity, thinking it would be a James Bond like role. I was wrong.

I was in the job for two years. By the end of it, things were getting dangerous and I found out that one drug syndicate was planning to put a bullet through my head out in the Waitakere Ranges. One of my best contacts was Graham Brazier, from the band Hello Sailor, because he was heavily involved in the drug scene. He was very personable, but I ended up putting him away for selling me heroin. If you look at the credits on his Inside Out album, it says “no thanks to Christopher Martin”. I also became a regular at the Esplanade Tavern in Devonport, courtesy of the Navy. The Navy had its own mailing system and sailors were using it to send back drugs and firearms from the United States. They would then sell the gear at the tavern, so I caught plenty of dealers in there. A lot of my other work involved the Mr Asia drug ring.

As well as being a detective and undercover cop, I spent three years in a drug squad. Some of the homes you went into were pretty disturbing and you realised that drugs tear people’s lives apart. We shut down 30 home heroin labs in 18 months, which was really satisfying. After that I moved to Telecom’s security service as Auckland manager. One particularly interesting case occurred involving Coca-Cola. A man threatened to put caustic soda randomly in bottles on the shelves if the company didn’t pay him $100,000 in gold bullion. He was making the blackmail calls from phone boxes in the city and a technician identified that he had just used a box in Ponsonby. When I reached it he was leaving and I knew it was him because no one wears gloves in summer. I tracked him to an address and the police then kept an eye on him. Coke arranged a spot for him to pick up a sack of gold bars by the motorway. Undercover police grabbed him during the pickup, but forgot to grab the gold which was left by the road. The police were furious as they had instructed Coke to use bricks instead of gold, but luckily the company retrieved the sack anyway.

I had a change of scene after that and for the next five years, was the operations manager for PMP Communications. After that I picked up a job as revenue protection manager for Power New Zealand, managing King Country Energy, Bay of Plenty Energy and Fresh Start Energy. I was told my office would be somewhere in central North Island so I assumed Taupo and got a shock when I found out it was Taumarunui. My wife Anita, who I met horse riding, our two boys Nick and Tyler, and I all moved to an eight hectare block there. It turned out to be a great rural experience for the kids, who could run through our paddock and jump the fence to get to school.

We moved to Omaha 15 years ago, which was still pretty rural and the kids could play tennis on the street. I started Insite Security in Warkworth, which involved mainly installing and monitoring security alarms. The business has changed a lot over the years as technology has improved. I’m lucky to have a young team that picks up on all those advancements so we can do a full security system for places like the Hospice Tui House with the best hardware available. I also enjoy working with the police, who use our footage to solve crimes. The first public camera we ever put up was on the corner of Queen Street and Kapanui Street. It got dumped in the river by two guys who were brought to justice. I’ve found there is nothing more satisfying than catching bad guys.

I got a real buzz out of catching someone who was stealing from the Hospice storage facility. We placed a silent alarm system in there to let us know when someone had broken in. When it went off one night, the team and I rushed straight out there and one of my guys tackled the offender and held him down until police arrived. We also caught someone who stole $1000 from the strawberry stand on Omaha Flats Road after using footage to bring information about the offender forward. The Waitemata Area District Commander gave us an award for our efforts in assisting police. Warkworth has a lot of growth on the way and that means more challenges in security. I plan to do my best to keep crime to a minimum in this community with skills I learnt from all those years in the force. It’s what I enjoy doing.

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