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What to do if you are unable to speak during a 999 call

The campaign aims to bust a common myth around silent 999 calls. Credit: IOPC / Twitter

Police are seeking to end the myth that silently calling 999 when you are in danger and cannot speak will bring help to you – and want you to know how this can actually be done.

The Silent Solution system lets a 999 mobile caller who is scared for their safety, or unable to make a noise, to press 55 when prompted.

Around 5,000 silent calls are transferred to the Silent Solution system but the 55 instruction is detected roughly only 50 times a day.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the system is only effective if the public understands how it works and are launching the Make Yourself Heard campaign on Monday to raise awareness.

This campaign, which coincides with National Stalking Awareness Week, is supported by the family of murder victim Kerry Power.

Kerry Power made a silent 999 call before she was murdered but she didn't know how to use the system. Credit: IOPC / Twitter

Ms Power made her silent 999 call in the early hours of December 14, 2013, when her ex-partner and stalker broke into her home.

She did not respond to the BT operator’s instructions and her call was transferred to the Silent Solution system.

As 55 was not pressed, the call was terminated and Devon and Cornwall Police were not notified of Ms Power’s call.

Her ex-partner David Wilder called police later that morning to report he had strangled her.

Ms Power's family say that because the "happy and fun-loving" mother did not know that simply calling 999 and not speaking will not automatically alert the police, no help came for her.

The said: "Although she [Ms Power] 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; that she could call and not speak, as the police held her details they would be alerted and attend.

“Unbeknown to Kerry, this was fiction and nobody came… a short while after the call, she was strangled.”

If you cannot speak during a 999 call you will be transferred to the Silent Solution system and prompted to dial 55. Credit: PA
  • What should you do if you cannot speak during a 999 call?

If they can, callers should listen and respond to questions and instructions, including by whispering, coughing or tapping the handset if possible, or if using a mobile phone once prompted by the automated Silent Solution system, pressing 55.

IOPC 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.

“We found from our investigation into police contact with Kerry that there is a lack of public awareness of the Silent Solution system and are keen to share this important information as widely as possible.

“It could potentially save a life.”

  • If you're calling 999 from a landline

Because it’s less likely that 999 calls are made by accident from landlines, the Silent Solution system is not used.

But there are three things the operator will look for to then transfer to a police call handler:

  • there is no request for an emergency
  • the caller does not answer questions
  • only background noise can be heard and BT operators cannot decide if an emergency service is needed, then you will be connected to a police call handler as there is doubt.

If you replace the handset, the landline may remain connected for 45 seconds in case you pick it up again.

If you pick up again during this 45 seconds and the BT operator is concerned for your safety, the call will be connected to police.

When 999 calls are made from landlines, information about where you’re calling from should be automatically available to the call handlers to help give a response.