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Last Updated: Tuesday August 19 2008 12:34 GMT

Ricky investigates fake 999 calls

NR's Ricky

Who would you call if you were stuck with your homework or your bus was late? Your mum or maybe a friend?

Well, some people are calling the 999 emergency number for tiny problems like this, and now one police force in England has decided it's time to get tough.

Ricky went along to the emergency call centre at the Avon and Somerset Police headquarters, to find out why silly or hoax calls are such a big deal.

"Standing inside the emergency call centre was pretty strange.

That's the place where operators receive calls from thousands of people who have dialled 999 and need some urgent help.

I overheard some of the distress calls. One caller had woken up to find her house had been broken in to, while another operator was trying to calm a woman down who had been in a traffic accident.

Squirrel 'emergency'

Ricky with one of the 999 call operators
Most of the phone calls that came into the emergency centre while I was there were genuine 999 calls, but Superintendent Jeanette Harris told me that more people are calling 999 for a laugh or for really silly things like needing a bit of help with homework!

I even got the chance to listen to some of the actual recordings from people who've made hoax calls to the police.

One woman called 999 saying that a squirrel in her back garden had no access to a hazelnut tree.

Criminal record

Avon and Somerset police are based in the South West of England and they told me that in the last year they received 4,800 fake 999 calls. That's about 15 hoax calls every day which could stop someone with a real emergency from getting through.

Superintendent Jeanette Harris said the police have a way of tracking calls that aren't real emergencies. If you do it you could have your mobile phone cut off and you risk getting a criminal record.

The message from the police isn't to stop dialling 999, they just want to make sure that people only call if they have a real emergency."