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Avon and Somerset Police statement over IOPC's 'Make Yourself Heard' campaign to raise awareness of silent 999 system

Retain Make yourself heard

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 (8th April 2019). 

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, Women’s Aid and Welsh Women’s Aid, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. 

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “Stalking is unacceptable and it is a criminal offence. We need to ensure that everyone knows about the Silent Solution as it could potentially save a life. 

“The impact of stalking on victims and their families can be devastating. I would urge anyone affected by this crime to not suffer in silence. Please tell someone and seek the help you deserve to protect you from anyone who might want to cause you harm.”

Avon and Somerset Police Head of Command and Control Becky Tipper said: "People call 999 in an emergency for many reasons – often it is to come to the aid of someone else but sometimes it can be when your own life is in danger or when you are in a crisis situation.  Talking to the emergency operator and providing them with details of your location and exactly what is happening is always the best and fastest route to getting emergency help.  However, there could be occasions where speaking out loud is just not possible or would put you in more danger and that is why knowing about the 55 service is so important.

"There are some urban myths and a lot of misinformation on social media around the use of 55 on an emergency call – some posts claim that police will automatically know where you are and dispatch officers to your location. This is not the case – but the police call handler will do everything they can to understand what is going on, where the caller is, and if they believe there is a true emergency ongoing. If you can, stay on the line, listen carefully to the police call handler, and communicate in whatever way you can, ensuring your safety comes first at all times." 

If someone dials 999, they will initially go through to BT who ask what emergency service they require. If a keypress of 55 is detected during the call to the BT operator, BT will relay this to a police call handler and tell them that '55 is detected'.

Call handlers are trained to deal with this situation and will make attempts to communicate with the caller using button presses. They may ask them to press a key twice for 'yes' or once for 'no'.  The police call handler will stay on the line and guide them through the call. They will also be listening out for any background noise or signs of disturbance – if this is detected then further investigation into the situation or location is possible. 

Avon and Somerset Police Head of Command and Control Becky Tipper added: "We really welcome the Make Yourself Heard campaign, which aims to raise awareness of this important service. We know there are many different situations when someone might need to use this, but it is especially timely during National Stalking Awareness Week. We want victims to know that they shouldn't suffer in silence."

Prior to her murder, Kerry Power 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. 
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. 

Kerry’s family said: “Happy, fun-loving and considerate are all words you could use to describe Kerry, however the one thing everybody would mention first would be that she was the consummate mum. 

“After a split from her son’s dad and a tough few years, things were on the up, Kerry was back to her old self and was looking forward. Unfortunately this was all brought to an end by the brutal actions of her ex-partner in December 2013. 

“After weeks of stalking and inappropriate behaviour, he broke into Kerry’s house with a key he had previously had cut, unable to accept her decision to end their relationship. As things escalated Kerry became worried for the safety of herself and her son, who was asleep upstairs and called 999. 

“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; 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.” 

Our investigation could not conclusively identify the wording the police officer used when advising Kerry about making an emergency call however it was clear she did not know she would need to press 55 when prompted by the Silent Solution system. 

Lisa Johnson, Manager of Direct Services at Women’s Aid, said: “For survivors of domestic abuse calling the police might be too dangerous. 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. 

“For a long time we have been encouraging survivors to use the Silent Solution system to make a silent 999 call if they feel it would be dangerous for them to speak to the call operator. That’s why we are pleased to work with the IOPC to help raise awareness of the system so that survivors can call 999 without putting themselves at further risk and prevent further lives, like that of Kerry Power, from being taken.” 

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Contact Management, ACC Alan Todd said: “One of the fundamental roles of police is to help people in an emergency. The police service receives 12 million 999 calls each year, and a small number of callers need to use the ‘Silent Solution’ as they are not able to use their voice during an incident. 

“This solution ensures that those who need assistance can make themselves heard through a simple and straightforward process.” 
As part of the Make Yourself Heard campaign, we 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.

Local stats April 2018 - March 2019:

Avon and Somerset Police were passed 41,999 calls from Silent Solution along with many other silent 999 calls that come direct to us from BT

Posted on Monday 8th April 2019
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