Hoax 999 calls
A hoax 999 call is when a person deliberately calls the emergency services, including the fire, police and ambulance services, to falsely inform them that there is an emergency when in fact there is not. Sometimes, people make hoax 999 calls not even to report that there has been a (false) emergency, but simply to abuse the emergency services or as a part of a ‘joke’.
It is a criminal offence to make a hoax call. Under UK law, a hoax caller is “a person who for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, sends, or causes to be sent, by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that the person knows to be false”.
In addition, hoax calls to the Fire and Rescue services are illegal under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.
Consequences for the police
Hoax calls are a misuse of the system and put people who are in need of urgent assistance from the emergency services at risk. They tie up the 999 lines and divert the emergency services away from people who may be in life-threatening situations. It is also a drain on the resources of the emergency services, as it costs a significant amount of money every time emergency services are deployed in response to a 999 call. If these calls are a hoax, then vital services will have been wasted. For example, if a 999 call is made to report an incident involving a weapon, the police may deploy various different sections in response, including ground officers, armed response officers, and the dog section.
Under some circumstances, if an offender is successfully prosecuted for making hoax calls, the emergency services may be able to apply for compensation. For example, they may be able to recover the cost of any vehicles and officers that were sent out to the incident that the hoax caller had informed them of.
Consequences for the hoaxer
All calls to 999 are voice recorded and it is very easy for the telephone operator to trace the telephone that the hoaxer has called from and, in turn, the address that they have called from. This makes it fairly easy to detect hoax callers.
Criminal proceedings can be brought against any person making a hoax call to the emergency services and they can be taken to court. If they are found guilty of the offence and successfully prosecuted, they may face heavy fines, imprisonment and a criminal record. However, depending on the seriousness, frequency and nature of the hoax call(s), some offenders may just get a warning.
It is important that parents or guardians educate children as to the consequences of hoax 999 calls, as children may commit an offence of this nature as part of a practical joke. However, they should be aware that this may be endangering other people’s lives and it may be necessary to divert their time towards more constructive activities.
It is important to remember that 999 should only be used in an emergency requiring the attendance of the police, ambulance or fire services. For all non-emergency policing matters, you should dial 101 or contact your local police force.