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‘I’m not really surprised by anything anymore’: Confessions from Aberdeen’s private investigator

Alex from Alba Investigations said very little shocks him these days and shares some of the cases and skills from the life of Aberdeen's only PI company.

Illustration of Aberdeen's private investigator looking out of a van from Kate Benzie/ DC Thomson
Alex set up Alba Investigations in May 2023. Illustration: Kate Benzie/ DC Thomson

All of us would probably like to know what our neighbours, colleagues and partners get up to when we are not around.

However, there is one man in Aberdeen who gets to do just that.

But instead of a fly on a wall, Alex is usually doing it by sitting in the back of a vehicle with a camera or in some rural surveillance cases, a bush in a ghillie suit.

After setting up his business Alba Investigations last May, the trained private investigator has been employed for all manner of jobs across Scotland.

View from van onto Union Street with the Aberdeen sign
Sometimes Alex will carry out surveillance from a vehicle. Image: Alba Investigations.

As a result, he admitted: “I’m not really surprised by anything anymore.

“Some of the calls you get, you wouldn’t believe some of the requests.”

His expertise covers a long list of problems from cheating partners to tracing long-lost family members to investigating corporate theft and fraud.

With his top-tier training and as the only PI – alongside his other PI business partner – in Aberdeen, his services are in high demand.

Intelligence community interested in PI training methods

Many in Alex’s line of work tend to be ex-police or military.

“I’m neither,” he said. “I always just fancied it and I thought ‘Why not? I’ll go for it.’

“I like to think it’s in my blood because my grandfather was an intelligence officer.”

Alex received training in York under former marine Peter Jenkins at ISS Training Ltd who he said is known as the best.

The surveillance part of the course, co-led by a former Special Branch officer, has even attracted curious members from the intelligence community.

While training and handy devices are a big part of the job, Alex said you also need to be able to think on your feet if things go wrong.

Illustration from Kate Benzie
Illustration: Kate Benzie/ DC Thomson.

An unexpected road trip

In one matrimonial job, a client from overseas employed Alex to carry out surveillance on their wife.

She was based in Aberdeen and he suspected her of having an affair. After catching her with another man, Alex was asked to attach a tracker to his car.

However, he ran into trouble when trying to retrieve it.

The 33-year-old said: “What I didn’t know was that he was overseas for months at a time and his car was inaccessible. I’m sitting there watching the app, and every single day the battery is going down.”

When the tracker’s battery was at 19%, Alex heard it ping. The man was on the move.

Alex quickly jumped into the car with his girlfriend and began pursuing the vehicle.

But as they followed him, Alex realised he had misjudged the man’s plans as he drove through the city.

After passing Stonehaven, then Dundee, Alex realised it was going to be a long day.

Alex said: “It ended up in a multi-story carpark three hours south of Aberdeen.

“That was a bit of a mission to say the least.”

Illustration: Kate Benzie/ DC Thomson of two wedding rings with found out inscribed on them
Illustration: Kate Benzie/ DC Thomson

Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry and cheating partners

Matrimonial cases make up around 70% of Alex’s work and, unfortunately, he said in Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry with partners leaving for weeks, cheating is a common theme.

And in a small city like Aberdeen, sometimes it gets too close for comfort.

In one job, Alex received a call from a client who suspected their partner, who worked in Aberdeen, of cheating.

When he asked what area of Aberdeen she was residing in, the client sent a location pin on Google Maps.

“It was in very close proximity to me,” Alex said.

“I didn’t even need to drive anywhere. I got out in the morning, went into the back of the van, set up the camera.

Aberdeen drone shot of Union Street.
A lot of matrimonial requests are to do with partners in Aberdeen’s oil and gas industry. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

“It turns out she was cheating. Later that day, the subject emerged from the property in question with another male displaying obvious signs of affection.”

Interestingly, Alex said he has noticed when it comes to cheating suspicions, you cannot beat a woman’s intuition.

He explained: “We tend to find when it’s a female client, about 90% of the time they’re right, whereas opposed to a male client calling, it’s about 50/50.

“I mean, a women’s intuition, they always know.”

Aim to be ‘easily forgettable’

Unlike in the books and films, Alex does not smoke a pipe or wear a trailing trench coat.

But it does not mean he is without any tricks.

For surveillance jobs, Alex said the aim is always to blend into the surroundings.

“You want to be as easily forgettable as possible,” he said.

For him, this means never wearing branded clothing and sometimes holding takeaway bags outside properties.

When following someone by car or on foot, he said they have to work in teams to allow regular changeovers so the target does not get suspicious and he always has a change of jacket, baseball cap and pair of glasses to hand.

Apart from the classic sitting behind a curtain in the back of a vehicle, Alex said they also have covert cameras which can fit in phone cases and car key fobs.

Private Investigator Alex with his laptop
Alex set up Alba Investigations in May 2023. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

‘It’s always good reconnecting people’

In tracing cases, another tool Alex uses is facial recognition, which proved very helpful in a difficult case.

A client asked him to trace a relative who had undergone a sex change from female to male.

He said: “I’m looking into all their social media, and it’s just photos of them after their transition to male.

“The gentleman had a new male name so I was digging through trying to find that. Nothing coming back. Eventually, after a lot of digging, I found a photo of them pre-transition when they were a female.

“We ran that through facial recognition and we got an instant match. And with that… we were then able to run it through our databases and trace them successfully.”

Those kinds of jobs, he said, are the most rewarding.

He added: “It’s always good reconnecting people. Delivering news a partner is cheating, while it’s good that people get the truth, it’s not the same.

“But other than that it is an excellent job. A lot of the time it doesn’t even feel like work, it really does just feel like an adventure.”