Hackney police crack down on timewasters who call 999 hundreds of times a month – just to hurl abuse

Pc Catherine Leach and Pc Pam Horgan at Stoke Newington police station. Both work on Sgt Natalie Wya

Pc Catherine Leach and Pc Pam Horgan at Stoke Newington police station. Both work on Sgt Natalie Wyatt's team to crack down on hoax 999 calls. Picture: Sam Gelder - Credit: Archant

A trailblazing police initiative targeting abusive callers has freed up manpower and helped some of the culprits get much-needed mental health care.

Last year Hackney officers decided to find out why some people were hurling abuse at call handlers on 999 and 101 up to 700 times a month, blocking lines for people in genuine need of help.

Every call to police costs £8.02, and it’s £53 to send officers out in the car. Hackney police work in pairs, so that’s £106 every time.

Sgt Natalie Wyatt is part of the borough’s anti-social behaviour and mental health team. She and her officers targeted 10 repeat offenders for six months, alongside mental health and council services. “We wanted to reduce call demands,” she said. “There’s a lack of resources and we looked at ways to make sure we were going to people who genuinely needed help.

“We looked at what made people call. One person would call 600 to 700 times a month, purely to be abusive. With others it’s mental health issues.

“There was one man who had a care plan but in the evening it wasn’t in place, so he’d get lonely and call 999 because he had no one else to turn to. We linked with care services and now he has a carer in the evening, too.”

After six months they saw an 88 per cent reduction in abusive calls, and after expanding it to another 42 callers for six months it’s now down by 92 per cent.

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It’s also saved £442,472 in call time, and a potential £5.5million had officers attended all the abusive calls being made.

That’s why the cash-strapped Met has decided to roll out the programme across London, and Sgt Wyatt and her team have been out teaching other boroughs how it’s done. “It’s about identifying their need so the most appropriate organisation is dealing with it,” she explained. “We arrested one person and became aware she was suffering issues. So we didn’t prosecute and she got the help she needed.”

Two others did get convicted. Showan Sofi, 32, of no fixed abode, was jailed for 18 weeks for abusive calls and Beverley Costin, 61, of Victoria Park Road got 12 weeks.

Insp Ian Simpkins said the last thing they want to do is stop people calling 999 in emergencies, “but we don’t want cars flying from one end of the borough to another on blue lights if they don’t need to. This is a symptom of enormous pressure on mental health services. For too long we’ve been dealing with the resulting problems but never got to the root cause.”