Forensic Analytics: Crime analysis software takes engineer from BT to the DEA

Forensic Analytics: Crime analysis software takes engineer from BT to the DEA

Today every one of the UK’s police forces are customers of Forensic Analytics

Lucy Tobin24 October 2023

Of the many new businesses concocted every year, about 90% fail, a handful make the world taste better, a smattering boost global sustainability efforts.

Very few entrepreneurs can say their start-up helps solve murders, finds missing people and progresses complex police investigations — but Joseph Hoy’s 10-year-old company, Forensic Analytics, does just that. 

Job satisfaction, Hoy says, doesn’t come from big contracts but “from being told, ‘There’s a vulnerable person alive this morning who might not otherwise have been.’ Knowing that by using our software, customers can get answers more quickly, and bring explanations or closure to victims or relatives sooner, makes us immensely proud.”

Hoy, 54, started out as a telecoms engineer for mobile networks including BT. He moved into telecoms training, and in the early 2000s, became an expert witness on “cell site analysis”, or providing location evidence based on mobile phone billing data. 

This work helped solve murders, armed robberies, kidnaps and terrorism cases: “all the really horrible things,” the calm entrepreneur concedes.

But every case Hoy worked on with his expert witness colleague, Martin Griffiths, faced delays because of the time it took to analyse the data. A multi-suspect, long-running fraud investigation would take an individual six months to process the data and turn evidence into a usable format.

“Then one day in 2013, I thought ‘why don’t we develop a proper application to process the files?’” 

Forensic Analytics was his response. 

Hoy united with Griffiths and a developer, Andrew Hausler, to create a software application, CSAS, that would import and analyse digital forensics evidence far more quickly than humans. 

That six-month fraud data analysis takes the software 10 minutes. “It works on lots of different data — not just from mobile phones, but also number plate recognition cameras, vehicle telematics — and maps and animates it. It can also answer common questions asked in investigations, such as who does this phone contact most often? Which areas does this phone spend most time in? Did these phones ‘meet up’ or travel together?” 

He concludes that CSAS “is generally quicker, and more accurate than a human processor”. Initially Griffiths and Hoy kept up their day jobs while Hausler developed the software. They thought a few other expert witnesses might want to buy it, at best.

But CSAS sales took off in 2016: when police officers in a case Griffiths was working on saw the software, “they were really interested, so we pivoted to look at the police market as well.” There was an obvious user case, Hoy explains. “If a suspect in a bank robbery investigation, for example, made a call two minutes before the robbery, the police can use their billing data to see which mast that suspect used. If it was nearby, it adds support to the contention that the individual might have been involved in that robbery; if [not], it might be a way of quickly ruling them out.” 

The software allows less-experienced investigators to analyse evidence, without needing to wait for experts to sift the manual data. 

Today every one of the UK’s police forces are customers of Forensic Analytics, whether buying its software or using its training and expert witness service. “Once they saw the productivity gains and the return on investment, the software often sold itself,” Hoy says. 

Sales started at £4000 in 2014, and increased 10-fold to £40,000 a year later. “Most years since we’ve had 50% or better growth.” 

By 2020, FA had a staff of 35, and Hoy hired a CEO and recruited former BT Enterprise boss, Gerry McQuade, as chairman. 

The trio put in £3,000 each to launch FA: “we were all too old and had too many family commitments to gamble any of our existing money on the company. So, no loans, no equity swaps, nothing — we only spent what we earned when we had it in the bank.” 

Hoy and Griffiths took no salaries for two years, “and Andrew only took enough to keep the lights on.” He is frank about the early sacrifices: “Our families kept the company afloat in the early days, [our partners] covered almost all of the family’s costs for the first two years — we wouldn’t have got here without them.” 

Today the company “is getting to the size where it pops up on the radar of larger organisations — we’ve had some approaches and some conversations.”

It is, Hoy says, “inevitable that at some point one of those conversations will involve a number big enough to make it worth our while to consider a sale.” FA’s customers now include the FBI and US Drug Enforcement Administration — Hoy speaks to me from Jamaica, where he is at the DEA’s annual international drug enforcement conference. 

He can’t quite believe it: “the whole thing was accidental, the impetus in software was for something for me and Martin to use, I certainly didn’t think it would lead me to the DEA in Jamaica. It’s done a lot more good than we could possibly have imagined.”