Do you know how to alert the police if you are in imminent danger but need to keep quiet? A new campaign explains how you can make yourself heard
Have you heard the rumour that police will automatically attend if you make a silent 999 call? Turns out, that’s more of a myth; police assistance won’t be deployed just by making a call.
If you’re already aware of this, you may have heard of the Silent Solution system, which prompts 999 callers to press 55 on mobiles to signify they are unable to talk. The system, which has been in operation since 2002, is well-established in the UK. But, it is only effective if the public knows and understands how it works.
Approximately 20,000 silent emergency calls are made in the UK each day, a quarter of which are transferred to the Silent Solution system by handlers. The police watchdog has revealed that of these 5,000 calls each day, the instruction to send help is only detected in around 50 calls.
Unfortunately, those callers unaware of the Silent Solution method could be assumed to be accidental or hoax callers and cut off; call handlers are unsure whether they are genuine if they have received no response after 30 seconds.
To tackle this problem, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is launching a new campaign, backed by a how-to guide, aimed at “debunking the myth” that a silent 999 call alone will automatically bring help. It could, in extreme situations, potentially save a life.
The Silent Solution is only applicable for calls made on mobile phones – if a silent call is made from a landline, the operator can choose to connect a police call handler if they think necessary.
The launch of the Make Yourself Heard campaign, backed by the charities Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), coincides with National Stalking Awareness Week from April 8 to 12.
Regional director Catrin Evans said: “It is always best to actually speak to a police call handler if you can, even if by whispering, but if you are putting yourself or someone else in danger by making a sound, there is something you can do.
“Make yourself heard by coughing, tapping the handset or – once prompted by the automated system – by pressing 55.”
The campaign is supported by the family of Kerry Power, who was killed by her stalker ex-partner in Plymouth in 2013. Kerry had made a silent 999 call but did not respond to the BT operator and so was transferred to Silent Solution.
A family statement said: “Although she was not able to speak for the fear of alerting the intruder to her actions, she followed the advice given by a police officer during an earlier visit.”
However, the family said she had not been told to press 55. “A short while after the call, she was strangled,” their statement added. However, the subsequent investigation into the police response found that Kerry may have been wrongly advised by a police officer about when assistance would be sent.
Lucy Hadley, from Women’s Aid, said: “We need to look at all ways we can raise awareness and make the system work better for the people it’s designed for, which are people in extreme distress and fear, and might not necessarily remember everything… on a poster or advertising campaign.”
So, if you are ever in danger and are too afraid to speak (or it’s not safe to), these are the steps to remember:
Listen to the questions that you’re asked
Respond to the operator by coughing, tapping the phone or, when you’re asked, press 55