In Brief

How 999 callers can ask for help if it’s not safe to speak

New #MakeYourselfHeard campaign designed to raise awareness of method to alert police in silence

UK police are launching a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of a “secret code” that can be used by callers who phone the emergency services but need to remain quiet.

 The move is part of efforts to “end the myth that if you dial 999 and say nothing then help will automatically be sent”, the Plymouth Herald reports. In reality, the call may be mistaken for a hoax or a dialling mistake.  

The #MakeYourselfHeard campaign aims to avoid that potentially lethal outcome by urging callers who are in imminent danger but unable to talk to make use of the so-called Silent Solution system.

If an emergency services operator receives a silent call, they forward the caller to this automated system, which has been in use since 2002. Once connected, callers are prompted to press 55 on their mobile to indicate that they require assistance.

If those numbers are not pressed, the call is terminated, but if they are, the caller is transferred to the police.

The police call handler will then “attempt to communicate with you by asking simple yes or no questions”, according to a how-to guide published by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

If the caller is still unable able to speak, the operator may ask them to employ a non-verbal response - for example, tapping the handset.

The system currently only works on mobile phones, as accidental calls are less likely to occur when using a landline.

Owning to the lack of public awareness about Silent Solution, and the high number of accidental 999 calls, the 55 instruction is “only detected in about 50 of 5,000 calls a day pushed through the automated system”, the BBC reports.

But as IOPC regional director Catrin Evans points out, greater awareness of the system “could potentially save lives”.

The campaign is being launched with the aid of the family of Kerry Power, a 36-year-old mother from Plymouth who was killed by her ex-partner in 2013.

Power was strangled by David Wilder shortly after making a silent 999 call, “believing - incorrectly - it would let police know she was in trouble”, says Sky News.

Wilder was jailed for life for the murder.

In a statement, Power’s family said that she had not been told to press 55, and a subsequent inquiry found that she may have been “wrongly advised by a police officer about when assistance would be sent”.

Women’s Aid is backing the drive to make more callers aware of how to use Silent Solution.

“For survivors of domestic abuse calling the police might be too dangerous,”  said the charity’s Lisa Johnson. 

“Many abusers will threaten to hurt or even kill them if they try to speak out about the abuse. This means that for far too long many women have not been able to access the emergency support they so desperately need from the police.”

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