A national campaign to raise awareness of a system to help people alert police when in imminent danger but unable to speak, is being launched by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) today, supported by Welsh Women’s Aid.
The Silent Solution system enables a 999 mobile caller who is too scared to make a noise, or speak, to press 55 when prompted – to inform police they are in a genuine emergency.
The system is well-established in the UK but is only effective if the public know and understand how it works. It could, in extreme situations, potentially save a life.
The IOPC-led ‘Make Yourself Heard’ campaign is being launched during National Stalking Awareness Week (8th – 12th April), with support from the family of murder victim Kerry Power, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women’s Aid Federation England and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
Prior to her murder, Kerry believed that if she made a silent 999 call she would not need to speak or make a noise for police to send assistance. Sadly her call was terminated and was not put through to the police control room because she did not know to use the Silent Solution system. A similar situation took place in Flintshire in 2014 when Karen Catherall was tragically murdered by a man she had met online.
It is not true that police will automatically attend if you make a silent 999 call. Callers need to listen and respond to questions and instructions, including by coughing or tapping the handset if possible, or if using a mobile phone, once prompted by the automated Silent Solution system, pressing 55.
The system filters out thousands of accidental or hoax silent 999 calls made daily. Around 50 emergency calls from mobiles a day are transferred by a BT operator to police forces in the UK as a result of someone having pressed 55 when prompted, enabling the police to carry out urgent enquiries to respond.
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.”
Kerry made her silent 999 call in the early hours of 14 December, 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 Kerry’s call. Her ex-partner David Wilder called police later that morning to report he had fatally strangled her.
As part of the Make Yourself Heard campaign, the IOPC have produced graphics, a poster and a ‘How to Guide’, which we hope will be shared widely to raise awareness of the Silent Solution system and debunk the myth that a silent call by itself will automatically bring help.
Tina Reece, Head of Engagement for Welsh Women’s Aid said: