Debunking the Silent 999 Call Myth

9th April 2020

Everyone in the UK knows that you have to dial 999 to access the emergency services. Kerry Power, a 36-year-old victim of domestic violence understood this also, when she was strangled in Plymouth in December of 2013 by David Wilder, her 44-year-old ex.

He was eventually convicted of murder and jailed for life. But the punishment could not undo the harm Wilder had done to Kerry and her family.

In the years that followed, questions were asked about the steps Kerry and the Police could have taken to prevent the tragedy. Everyone knows that 999 should be your first call when you encounter an emergency.

But Kerry did call 999. So, what went wrong? What prevented the police from rushing to Kerry’s rescue in her hour of need? The answer is complicated. While Kerry’s call connected her to a BT operator, she couldn’t speak in fear of alerting her attacker.

As such, once the BT operator started asking questions, she sealed her fate when she failed to provide answers. She was transferred to The Silent Solution, as procedure dictated. Since she did not perform the steps demanded of her at that moment, her call was terminated.

This wasn’t Kerry’s first encounter with the police. She had spoken to a police officer during an earlier visit. While it was initially assumed that Kerry had merely failed to engage the Silent Solution system as encouraged, subsequent investigations showed that she might have been wrongly advised by the police officer regarding the use of 999 and how it is ultimately used to dispatch help.

Debunking the Myth

Some people erroneously believe that a silent 999 call can compel operators to automatically send help to your door. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The emergency phone system is subjected to hoax silent calls on a daily basis. This is a problem because it encourages operators to ignore genuine emergencies in an effort to disarm pranksters.

The Silent Solution system was created partially as a means of filtering out, not just hoax but accidental silent 999 calls. This automated system handles roughly 5,000 of the 20,000 silent 999 calls that are made every day.

When you call 999, you are encouraged to alert the police officer of your presence. If you can neither speak nor explain your situation, you can whisper―if only to prove that you are still there. If you cannot speak, then cough or tap the handset. These are actions that the operator will ask you to perform.

The objective is to make yourself heard. If the operator takes note of voices in the background but they fail to receive any tangible responses from the caller, they will send the call to an automated system that will ask the caller to press 55 if they need a response from the police.

Pressing 55 will drive the operator to send the police. It has been theorised that Kerry Power failed to press 55. Some people think that she simply did not know about the mechanism. Others have suggested that she was never advised to do so in the first place.

This is why a campaign has been launched to educate the public on the best way to receive a response from the police if they cannot talk and to also debunk the myth that a silent 999 call on its own can bring help.

So far, the campaign has received the backing of Kerry Power’s family, Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid, and the National Police Chief’s Council.