back to article Cambs cops podcast 999 timewasters

Cambridgeshire police have come over all Web 2.0 and decided to podcast a selection of entertaining "non" 999 calls in an effort to "curb the number of nuisance calls the police receive". You can find the offending pleas for asistance right here. Among the winning line-up is someone asking "What's today's date?" and the …


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  1. Robinson
    Paris Hilton

    Mental Health

    Amusing as these stories are, I can't help thinking (especially after listening to them on the radio), that the vast majority are associated with some mental health disorder, rather than just plain idiocy in the general public. So perhaps just a snigger would be more appropriate.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dial the non-emergency number

    I once tried to contact the police using the non-emergency number. I'd recently moved and didn't know the number so I dialled 118 xxx (I forget which operator I used) only to be advised to dial 999.

    Whats a body to do? Me? I was dogged and said its not an emergency, find me the local police station. Eventually they gave me the details I needed.



  3. Jim Halfpenny

    But it is an emergency!

    "I need to send this goodwill message to the Prime Minister."

    "I'm sorry, but this is the emergency line."

    "But this is an emergency, I already started the timer!"

    Boom boom!

  4. Seth

    listen to the last one

    I bet the "Grandma we love you" song was written espesially for her.

  5. Pete James

    A job for Emma Clarke!

    As Emma's possibly still smarting from the alleged recent bitchslap courtesy of TfL here's a route to take out some aggression created by those part-time liberal nonces. When the 999 staff take a call from some time-wasting pants wetter they could just bang them through to a suitably strident telling-off from Ms Clarke complete with a profane flourish just to make sure the cretinous listener gets the message.

  6. Telic
    Gates Horns

    MP3 Busters

    Those 999 recordings are posted in MP3 format. Many open-source software users can't legally play MP3 files on their PC. How about getting stricter on promoting international Internet crime, hmmm? ;-)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    queue people phoning 999 with obscure "I'm looking for Captain Picard" jests so that they can get on the podcast site.

  8. Spleen

    Am I missing something

    Won't this make people more likely to make hoax 999 calls, not less, if the best ones are going to be broadcast to the world? People are attention-seeking, so let's give them more attention. Brilliant.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    They are not very good

    Still I am sure putting them on the web will inspire people to do better!

    The people in these phone calls are genuinely confused about which planet they are on, they are not going to be any less confused by posting their conversations on the internet for us to laugh at, this is simply mocking sufferers of mental illness. It will serve them right if they get more prank calls.

  10. Tawakalna


    I heard this on R4 before I read it on El Reg. Most of the pointless calls played were from women. Does this mean that it's mostly women who make pointless calls to 999, or that it's just mostly women who were in this selection?

    I'd love to know so that I can taunt the wife about it :)

  11. Simon Neill


    @"It will serve them right if they get more prank calls."

    Sadly though, its not the 999 opperators that suffer. Just like tech support I'm sure all they do is tape it and have a laugh with all their coworkers about it later, in fact I imagine these calls brighten their day a little rather than the usual brand of death and destruction they expeirence.

    The problem is that these prank calls will hinder anyone with a GENUINE emergency getting through, I hope we never end up like america where the emergency number has people on hold....

  12. Paul

    Bill them

    The police have caller ID and also ask for the callers number as part of the initial contact procedure.

    If they billed £10 to £50 back to the calling number for every wasted call then maybe the idiots would stop and think.

    Word would soon get about and the number of calls would drop quit quickly.

  13. Anonymous John

    Avvvon and Someset plod have some as well

    And they do things differently in America.

    Where's my coat? I'd better ring 999.

  14. Paul

    Free advertising via 999

    So 118118 are the only people who will be able to help with a phone number (last clip). Not only is a public service advertising, but it is false advertising.

  15. andy gibson

    The number "998"

    That's the super quick response number for the police, but only if you're a Stonecutter.

  16. Anton Ivanov

    I have tried calling Cambs 999

    I called them a few months back trying to report that an idiot on drugs (and/or alcohol) was trying to throw himself under cars 500m from their bloody police station (across Parker's Piece in Gresham Road). In the interval between the attempts the chap kicked the car tires and enjoyed the sound of alarms from the ones that had one.

    Guess what I was told - not to bother them until he gets run over. Till then it is not an emergency. The wonderful Cambridge police at your service.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    @ Mental Health

    I had the misfortune to live in that part of the world for a number of years; trust me, it's not a mental health issue, it is unfortunately all too representative of the population in that area!!

    Still, they're not afraid of global warming up there; those webbed feet mean they'll be able to run right over the top of the water!

  18. Anonymous Coward

    @Simon Neill

    "I hope we never end up like america where the emergency number has people on hold...."

    In 1991, in London one Sunday afternoon, I called 999 for an ambulance, as I'd just seen a very nasty RTA. I got a recorded message telling my call was inportant, and would be attended to in strict order. The 999 operator (who was monitoring my call) was flabbergasted, and tried several times, and different circuits with the same result. In the end, I gathered my wits, and asked for police as well, who answered, called an ambulance directly, and were there in 3 minutes (ambulance took another 2).

    So, it does happen here.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    F**kwits r us ?

    Maybe the 999 service can set up a parallel service, like a conference call facility. When these muppets call up just say "One moment, please, I'll transfer you to the right department" <click>.

    You could probably make the service self-funding if you had a webfeed into the audio, so people could click on different lines to hear the conversation ...

    Caller 1 "Yes I'm looking for the PMs phone number"

    Caller 2 "No, it's *homebase* i'm looking for"

    Caller 1 "What's he doing in homebase"

    Caller 2 "No, I'm not in homebase"

    Caller 1 "Well where is he then ?"

    Caller 2 "I think I drove past it"

    Caller 1 "You've driven past the PM. Couldn't you stop ?"

    Caller 2 "No, it was a dual carriageway"

    CAller 1 "What was the PM doing on a dual carriageway ?"

    Caller 2 "No, it was the morning."

    Caller 1 "Yes, this morning, I wanted to congratulate the PM"

    and for the very anal :

    CAller 3 : "Is Vic there ?"

  20. Steve
    Thumb Up


    Dial 101 for non emergency contact.

    Telic - AFAIK the codec for decoding MP3 is freely available. It's encoders that require a licence from the Fraunhoffer institute.

  21. yet another Matt

    Genuine Non-Emergencies

    I always wince when I see these stories.

    Is there a rule set out there that constitutes an emergency, because I haven't seen one? And I don't know about you, but I'm not in the habit of carrying around the local police's phone numbers, nor am I - as Neil wisely suggested - in the habit of phoning up premium rate phone numbers to find out.

    What I worry about is that people may not phone in genuine emergencies, because they are worried they will be vilified. After all, a car, parked on double yellow lines in the middle of London is not a bomb until it explodes... or towed.

    On top of that, whenever I have had the misfortune to dial 999 (and I'm not alone in this), the operators come across as rude -- although this does make a good deterrent. So I don't have much compassion for them.

    I say, stop moaning and start working.

  22. Davey Bee

    Contacting the Police

    Yes, and these are very stupid calls indeed (can't the people be prosecuted?) BUT....

    In this town of 15,000 people, we can no longer phone the local police station. Let's face it, most calls to the police are not emergencies are such, but things like "There's some lads fighting in my pub". So there was a time that you'd phone up the local nick, and they'd send a couple of PCs to sort it out. But now you can't do that. You end up speaking to people 50 miles away, who don't understand where The Dog and Duck is or anything else about your town, and seem more interested in asking statistical questions than getting someone to come round.

    I had this experience a year ago, when I phoned the police about a very drunk / drugged girl who was on the street one afternoon (I was concerned about the girl's own safety and nothing else). Half an hour later - by which time the girl had disappeared - a WPC turned up, wandered about for a minute or two, and then left the scene.

    Perhaps if the local cops' number was publicised - and if your calls actually got through to someone local - then people would be more likely to keep 999 for real emergencies.

    And removing the police to out-of-town barracks (TheRegister a week or so ago) will only make things worse.

  23. yet another Matt

    @ Steve

    That is clearly a brilliant service.It's such a brilliant service they've even decommissioned it in Leicester, Rutland, Melton and Harborough, and is only available in a few small towns.

  24. Anonymous John

    Re Free advertising via 999

    Well, 118 118 seems to be the only one advertsising on TV nowadays. I wouldn't use them as the adverts piss me off, but it is the most well known number.

  25. Dave


    For Cambs police it's fairly easy - 0845 456 456 4 (their formatting) gets the control room for non-emergencies.

    Of course, on the other side there's all the publicity of "if in doubt, dial 999". You certainly don't want to discourage people from calling when there is a need.

    To be fair to the Cambs force, the one time I called them, someone did turn up to deal with an incident pretty quickly. I guess they weren't busy directing people to Homebase at the time.

  26. Gavin Pearce

    @Anonymous Coward @Simon Neill AND Re: Re Free advertising via 999

    @Anonymous Coward @Simon Neill

    I too have been on hold on a 999 call. The operator was quite clearly trying his best to put me through, and was about as distressed as I was (I had just been mugged / assualted). After trying numerous numbers to connect me too, and around a 10 minute wait, he got me through to a police control centre somewhere miles away.

    It really worried me, you feel secure knowing that help is just a 999 call away. When you factor in a 10 minute wait just to answer the call, things seem a lot more scary.


    Re: Re Free advertising via 999

    I agree. Give the operator a chance. She was trying her best to get the person off the phone as quickly as possible, but yet not be too rude. She just gave her the first numebr that came to her head ... which would be the first number that would come to mine too. Though in this day and age you're quite right - its the sort of stupid thing someone would get sued and loose their job over, I do wonder if it would be you doing the sueing?

  27. Richard Vivash

    Short back and sides?

    Many years ago I worked in Ambulance control. We had regular callers who would phone 999 almost every night for various non-existent problems. Granted they more than likely had mental issues, however this probably says more about the lack of support they received whilst living in the community than anything else.

    My favourite call however was from a young mother, who although obviously not the brightest girl, I don't believe had any real mental issues. She called in a complete panic saying that she urgently needed an ambulance. On asking what the problem was, she exclaimed that her son had chewing gum stuck in his hair... I suggested a hair dresser...

  28. David Lurie
    Paris Hilton

    Good service over in NI

    @Anton and @Dave

    As an ex-Cambridge resident myself, I must admit that I never had a 999 call (2 or 3 in the space of 11 years) where I felt like they gave a crap about what they're reporting.

    Now that I live in Belfast I tend to ring 999 at a minimum of once a month to either report witnessing people trying to break into cars/houses, or getting into fights on the street - the police are always very quick to arrive. In one case, I rang 999 because my roof was flooding and the people upstairs refused to listen to me or open the door so I could check the leak - I had to ring 999 to get the fire brigade out who broke down the upstairs door (serves the tenants right for refusing to open the door even when 4 firemen knocked on it): apparantly this was not a fire brigade matter either, but they were more than happy to help even at the immense cost for the fire brigade.

    Looking back at that all I think I may donate to some fire brigade related charity after christmas!

    (and Paris' picture just because)

  29. Steve Kelly

    @David Lurie

    Prehaps the NI fire brigade/police are only to happy to show up and solve silly things that arent important as they prefer that than getting petrol bombed on their way to hoax calls.

    On a side note i live in city center belfast, there was a fire lit (about 10 large bins) outside my flats which is 50m away from the fire station, it took them 30 mins to come and put it out, if they looked out their window they could have seen it..... so its not always the speediest of services

  30. Phil

    The IT crowd had the best idea,

    Change 999 to something like

    0118999881999119725 3

    (and if I got that correct, it shows how memorable it was)

    Last time I went out of my way to report something (roadwork traffic lights on a blind bend, where both ends were green at the same time), phoned my local station, got the 3rd degree off of some rude policewoman, firing me questions for around 15 minutes and vowed never to bother phoning them again. Guildford police station up to their usual high standards.

  31. Mr Smin

    Daft Callers

    @Robinson - can't speak for the police but as an ambulance man I can tell you there are a lot of people out there who are very selfish/lazy/stupid - contrast with people with actual mental problems who I have far more sympathy for.

    People who have found themselves on hold on 999 to the ambulance service are, at certain times of day, likely to be in a queue behind calls relating to drunks who really only require a couple of mates to carry them home.

  32. b166er

    London police station numbers

    Dunno if this is still the same, but when I worked in a 192/100/999 call centre, (almost) all the police station numbers in London ended in 1212. In other words, if you know the sub area code for the district of London you are in, you know the police station number.

    Now, I visit this site by typing www.theregister.CO.UK in my URL field. Therefore I expect my spelling to be checked against a UK dictionary (centre). I also notice that mobe isn't identified as correct, whereas cell, is. Tch, no consistency ;p. Interestingly, dunno, is.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    West Yorks non-emergency number

    In West Yorks ours is 0845 6060606 and it is (or at least certainly used to be) printed down the side of every police vehicle as well as being pretty memorable.

    I've had very good responses from both 999 (under 10 minutes for officers to arrive at our door in the middle of the night) and the non-emergency number.

    Nothing to whinge about, not particularly funny. Nothing to see here, move along...

  34. Rich Jarvis

    Dodgy Calls

    I used to do 999 calls for BT in a previous life:) They'd just brought in the 'Met Auto' which was/is an automated message asking you to press 5 twice to confirm you need a emergency service. As a 999 op. you put the met auto onto the line if you got a mobile call and it stayed silent-ish for 30 secs. I'd say 50% of the calls I got were mobiles in pockets.

    While there were dubious 999s along the vein of 'I haven't got enough cheese on my pizza' with my fav. being 'They've got me in a body bag', you got 2 or 3 of these day if you were lucky, compared to perhaps 30+ silent mobiles. If you forced everyone to use clamshells and installed machineguns in the roof of payphones when kids on their way home from school wanted to call Santa, 999 numbers would halve.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be worse...

    You guys could be like here in New Zealand when you phone the emergency service (111, here) get put through to the police who then send a /taxi/ which goes to the wrong address...

    She still hasn't been found.


    "Hello, which emergency service do you require?"

    "Taxi please"

    "This is for emergency services, we can't put you through to a taxi company."

    "OK, put me through to the police, they'll send me a taxi."

  36. Alex Threlfall

    Non-Emergency Numbers

    Are actually quite hard to find, I eventually found the local (Avon & Somerset) website buried away on their website, and it's come in handy several times with regards to traffic lights out and other minor things that *clearly* don't require tying up a 999 line.

    Some of us out there do think :)

  37. lglethal Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I like the idea of charging obviously bogus calls

    Anyone making the really stupid obviously calls gets a £10 addition to their phone bill (rising by £10 per phone call per month!). Silent mobile phone calls get the same. This has 3 benefits -a) people wanting to ask REALLY stupid questions might learn that 999 ISN'T the best place to be asking about the nearest hairdressers; b) people who havent learnt to use the "lock phone" function on there keypad will learn a valuable lesson and c) the emergency service might finally get enough funding!

    Mind you there would probably have to be a panel that decides when a call is stupid and deserves to be charged but the money form the charging should pay there salary easily! :)

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ lglethal

    the problem is, that you'll end up with some sweet old lady getting a bill for 1,000s; and the media will start a campaign which will portray the 999 service as evil-hearted b*stards ...

    Maybe the emergency services could do themselves a favour, and devise a new national number, which would connect a caller to the local police station. I once called 999 from a motorway (handsfree of course !) to report a car which had seemingly broken down, with no sign of a driver. Now really , it wasn't a 999 issue - just something the police needed to know. But I had no other choice - unless I stopped and used the roadside phone.

  39. Spleen


    To add to what AC said, a silent call could very easily be someone suicidally depressed rather than an unlocked phone.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Clever Blokey

    As Voice Network Manger for the Met 1992-2001 I agree with b166er.

    We thought that, as 'Whitehall 1212' at New Scotland Yard was the best remembered number in London (if not the world !), that it would be the ideal non-emergency local number for all 230 odd Police Stations in Town Cost a fortune but BT were fantastic. One bank wanted 2000 GBP to let us have theirs pffffft ! so we used 1213.

    112 is the correct Emergency number.....EEC rules. 999 still routed the same.

    Also, Anonymous Coward. to dial your local nick using a single number for Non emergency is possible but the system to route based on caller ID was too expensive, at least for the Met. and what about Mobiles and all the other non geographic numbers ? Nightmare,

  41. Eileen Bach

    whatsis the emergency?

    ..well someone is throwing bricks at my windows"

    -"Ah you need emergency glaziers then, call 118118"

  42. lglethal Silver badge

    @ Spleen

    True but then if theyre not willing to speak to the emergency operator, how can the emergency operator help them. More then likely the operator will assume its an unlocked mobile and hang up.

    Oh and im yet to hear of anyone who's committed suicide after receiving £10 bill!

    @ Anon coward

    Hence why there would be a panel to review the decisions. Obviously a little old lady would need support rather then a bill but like someone already mentioned calls from old ladies, etc make up a tiny percentage of the annoying calls they receive so not a big issue!

  43. Anonymous Coward

    @ Spleen

    I wish *I* could charge those foolish, foolish people who've phoned me from their pocket or bag.

    A mate of mine has a phone which texts the first person in the address book when the OK button is held down. "Anonymous Coward" is the first entry in his address book so when he sits on the phone, I end up with hundreds of blank text messages. Very annoying!

  44. Paul Hampson

    Paying for non-emergencies...

    The thing that really hacks me off about the non-emergency numbers is that you have to pay for them! It cost me £2-3 on my mobile for me to report a vehicle which I suspected to be an abandoned stolen (and turned out to be stolen, after waiting 30 minutes in the pouring rain for a pair of Community Support officers to turn up!)...

    That 101 number scheme would be better. Especially if it is free...

  45. tony trolle

    from the cambs police site from number 4

    Ch Insp Winters said: "He said he thought he called 998 which isn't an operating number. This is clearly someone who doesn't understand the phone system. This call takes up the operators time."

    In fact any number after the first and second 9's works. This is clearly someone who doesn't understand the phone system lol

  46. Ralph Hodgson

    @ David Laurie

    A domestic water burst is the responsibility of the fire brigade, although the only action they take is to turn the water off, and ensure no further flooding. They will pump out water too if it is severe.

  47. Jos

    Phones dialling in pockets....

    Most phones (don't know if this is common on all phones) will allow emergency numbers to by dialled even when the keypad of the phone is locked.

    In my phones, when I type 911, or 112 (US and NL emergency numbers) it will "unlock" the keyboard at typing the last digit.

    I have woken up in the morning (technically for me, it was morning), checking my keypad-locked phone for dialled numbers to find out I called emergency somewhere the preceding night unknowingly.


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