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Thursday, September 9, 1999 Published at 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK


Mobile phones clog up 999 service

London Ambulance Service is starting a call screening process

Huge numbers of mobile phone owners are calling 999 after hitting their keypad by mistake, police have revealed.

In June, 12,500 accidental calls were made from mobile phones in London alone.

The BBC's Jane Peel reports: "Most of us don't realise just how much chaos we are causing"
The problem is caused by the buttons on the phone being pressed accidentally - often when the mobile is left in a bag or clothing.

Staff must spend time assessing each call to decide whether it is a real emergency, using up valuable resources, police said.

Increased mobile phone ownership is being blamed for the extra pressure on the 999 call system.

[ image: Fake calls divert emergency services from saving lives]
Fake calls divert emergency services from saving lives
Of the 22 million 999 calls made each year, some six million are made from mobile phones.

Wider mobile use also means emergency services are often called several times about the same incident, again using up resources.

'Think before you ring'

A campaign launched on Thursday - chosen for its date, 9.9.99 - aims to cut the number of unnecessary calls.

The campaign, urging people to "think, think, think" before dialling 999 is being spearheaded by the London emergency services.

It is being launched at Scotland Yard with Metropolitan Police chief Sir Paul Condon, LAS chief executive Michael Honey and London Fire Brigade assistant chief fire officer Malcolm Kelly.

Ironically on the same day, a Conservative councillor and police authority member was shamed for dialling 999 after getting stuck in a traffic jam at an agricultural show.

Brenda Ravencroft made the call from her mobile phone when she was delayed on her way from the Royal Norfolk Show in Norwich in June.

Mrs Ravencroft, a member of Norfolk Police Authority, complained that "ordinary people" were being allowed out of the show grounds before agricultural society members.

Norfolk police did not respond to the call.

Record number

Norfolk's chief constable, Ken Williams, said police would take no action over the incident but he said Mrs Ravencroft had made an "error of judgment".

The Metropolitan Police, which spends £100m a year on emergency calls, said last year a record two million 999 calls were received.

More than 1.5 million did not require an immediate response.

The London Ambulance Service is introducing a screening process to assess which of the more than one million calls it receives each year require an ambulance.

One in every 20 calls to London's fire brigade are hoax calls - up to 35 a day.

Did you know...

  • The 999 service was launched in London in July 1937.

  • It spread to Glasgow in 1938 and was introduced in most large towns by 1948.

  • On the continent the emergency number is 112 but dialling this number in the UK will still get you through to the emergency services.

  • Although many mobile phones have a facility to lock the keyboard to prevent accidental calls, this is often overridden if the number dialled is 999.

  • Examples of frivolous calls to police include a woman reporting a cat "intruding" into her house, a man trying to find the nearest Chinese takeaway and another asking if his lost £20 note had been handed in.

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