SUBURBAN Winchester is renowned for many things — eye-popping house prices, frenzied discussions about private schooling, and the mulling over of which shelf of the Aga to roast your quail on.
But hi-tech tracking of British business men and women working in some of the most dangerous parts of the world?
Nope, not even remotely on the middle class radar of those who reside in ever-fashionable St Cross.
Or, at least, it wasn’t until the son of a former senior Winchester Crown Court judge and a jeweller started security firm Spearfish there in 2009.
Today managing director Dan Hooton and his team sit scanning hugely-enhanced maps of Nigeria, Somalia and Pakistan as they watch over their “assets” — people, offices, cars, anything really.
“We devise and deliver security, protecting everything that belongs to the client,” explains the bearded 42-year-old, in the matter-of-fact manner of a man discussing the rugby.
“The world’s not becoming a quieter place. As Britain’s economy recovers and people want to do business abroad, we want to be enabling that.”
The key to Spearfish’s protection service is in its meticulous research, preparation and training — identifying any potential threat, then putting in place the most sophisticated anti-terrorism measures currently on the market to stop it.
Car drivers are trained to repel attack, hotels are closely vetted, clients traverse dangerous cities bristling with discreet satellite tracking devices that encase them in a cyber ring-of-steel.
Each individual’s location is then watched on screens at Spearfish’s Winchester office, and alerts triggered (“we get a ping”) should the asset stray metres or minutes from its expected itinerary.
When circumstances require it, Mr Hooton will be there in the country himself, smoothing the path for his client.
Put basically, they deliver a bespoke service for a niche market — and if it all seems like a military operation, that’s because Mr Hooton and his Head of Operations Grant White both served in the armed forces.
Mr Hooton’s grandfathers served in the RAF and Army during WW2, but when the then 20-year-old “ran away” it was to sea, and the Royal Navy.
He served a short-term commission, first in the surface fleet as a junior warfare officer, then for three years on exchange serving with the Army.
He also has a masters degree in corporate risk and security management so, despite the gravity of the role his firm discharges — on the day of the interview he was tracking 25 cars and people — he shrugs when asked about stress, adding: “not really, though it certainly could be if we found ourselves in the middle of an incident like a bomb or a riot”.
He went on: “Our biggest concerns on a day-to-day basis are a road traffic accident, a car breaking down on the streets of Nigeria or a hotel fire.”
During his four years as Head of Physical Security for The Prudential prior to founding Spearfish, Mr Hooton brought two of the firm’s auditors, posted to Mumbai, through the 2008 terrorist attacks.
“They were in one of the hotels.
We couldn’t initially work out what was going on and had to speak to contacts on the ground,” he says.
“We advised our guys to stay in the room, turn the lights out and conserve their phone battery.
“It was busy for two days but we got them out, no problem at all.”
Yet, as a newly-formed fledgling firm, Spearfish first focussed on the security of luxury yachts.
At the time, Somali pirate gangs were preying on vessels forced across the Gulf of Aden either to or from the Suez Canal.
Dozens of merchant ships sailing through the area were hijacked, but private yachts were also targeted, including one belonging to the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler.
When the Southampton-based Jubilee Sailing Trust square-rigger The Lord Nelson circumnavigated the world with a crew of disabled youngsters, it was Spearfish which ensured they safely traversed pirate-infested waters.
Over time the maritime market became flooded so, despite the fact Swordfish’s chairman is former First Sea Lord Lord West, the company changed tack to largely protecting people on land.
As the firm has developed, the Winchester link has remained strong.
Its commercial director is Mr Hooton’s fellow Winchester Montgomery School alumni, Quentin Brook, who “keeps us grounded”.
When not spending about one third of his time abroad, Mr Hooton still lives here with wife Emma and takes part in triathlons “to fight the middle age creep”.
Has anything untoward ever happened to the assets he has been guarding?
He shakes his head: “Nah.
Because you prepare, and, if you do that, you minimise things happening to such an extent that it becomes a rarity.
“We’re preventative, not reactive.
We’ve had some near-misses but we put that down to the fact that we’re doing our job properly.”