Facebook post on how to make a silent 999 call is misleading

16 April 2020
What was claimed

If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak, ring 999 and when they answer press 55. This tells them you need help but can’t speak. They will dispatch police to you.

Our verdict

If you call 999 from a mobile and the operator can’t hear anything suspicious, you will be prompted to press 55 if you need the police. This will not necessarily mean the police will be dispatched. The police call handler will decide what to do.

We’ve seen a post on Facebook making claims about what to do if you need to make a silent 999 call.

“If you’re in a situation where you can’t speak...Ring 999 when they answer press 55

This tells them you need help but can’t speak.

They will dispatch police to you!

Worth knowing!”

Facebook user, 14 April 2020

This is not correct. There is a system by which you can dial 55, when prompted, to show that you want to be put through to the police, but this only works from a mobile. And a silent 999 call will not always result in the police being dispatched.

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What happens on a silent 999 call

You can listen here to what happens during a silent 999 call from a mobile phone.

If you call 999 you’re initially put through to a BT operator—they will direct your call to the relevant emergency service. 

In some circumstances it may not be possible or safe for you to speak to the operator. Your call should still be transferred to the police by the operator if they hear suspicious noises, and you can also cough, tap the handset or make a noise to alert them that this is the case.  

Otherwise, if the call is made from a mobile phone (not a landline), it will be forwarded to an automated system called “Silent Solution”.  An automated voice asks the caller to press 55 if they need police assistance. Dialling 55 here will direct the call to a police call handler. 

When we’ve written about this topic before, the NPCC told us that dialling 55 at any point in the call (even before prompted) is likely to alert the operator that the caller needs to be put through to the police, as would doing something like tapping the handset to make a noise. Police call handlers are trained to get details from callers who cannot speak, and use methods like asking only yes or no questions.

If you’re calling on a landline then guidance also says that if for any reason you disconnect the call by hanging up you have 45 seconds to pick it up again and the call will resume. If this happens (you hang up and pick up again within 45 seconds) the BT call handler will also forward the call to the police.

Police won’t necessarily be dispatched

Even if you dialled 55 when prompted by the automated system, this wouldn’t guarantee that the police would be dispatched to you. It only means you will be connected to a police call handler, who from there, will decide what action to take.

As we’ve written before, the police won’t always be able to track your location. If calling from a landline, that can usually be traced to an address, but an exact location can’t always be pinpointed from mobiles, especially in built-up areas.

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