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MSPs reject idea of 999 call charge

POLITICIANS have rejected "ludicrous" claims that people should be charged a premium rate for 999 calls.

It follows a suggestion by Tayside Police Federation secretary David Hamilton that those calling the emergency services should be charged 50p in a bid to cut down on the number of prank or hoax calls.

He claimed control rooms were under too much pressure due to the large volume of calls and his idea would ensure only those with real emergencies dialled 999.

However, MSPs have flatly rejected the idea, while a spokesman for Scotland's new single police force said access to the police via the emergency number is vital.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes MSP said: "Frankly, this is a ludicrous suggestion.

"If even one young woman or elderly person was put off seeking urgent assistance because they did not have enough credit on their phone it would be one too many.

"Has Mr Hamilton really lost sight of the reason for the 999 number?

"Tayside Police have a non-emergency number and raising awareness of that is surely the sensible way to reduce unnecessary 999 calls."

Labour's Lewis Macdonald added: "Hoax and unnecessary calls to our emergency services are foolish, life-threatening and frustrating for those who have to answer them.

"But charging people 50p a time isn't the answer.

"Someone in danger shouldn't need to worry about whether they have enough credit to speak to the emergency services.

"What's more, these calls are free in all EU countries, so we need to look at how we can prevent nuisance calls, rather than try to stop people calling in the first place.

"Let's educate people about the consequences of making unnecessary 999 calls and, where someone makes nuisance calls, then the strongest measures should be taken against them."

The proposal was also dismissed by the Conservatives, who claimed it would discourage people from reporting crimes to the police or incidents to other emergency services.

Party justice spokesman David McLetchie MSP said: "Unfortunately nuisance calls are part and parcel of dealing with emergencies, and even if only a small proportion of calls lead to the detection of a crime, who is to say that's not worthwhile?"

Figures from Tayside Police reveal the force receives an average of 400,000 calls a year, of which 50,000 will be 999 calls.

In a post on Twitter, Mr Hamilton said: "Maybe time to make 999 a premium rate number?

"If a genuine emergency you'd spend 50p to report it. Phoneboxes exempt."

A spokesman for Police Scotland, which comes into effect on April 1, claimed the single force is considering ways to ensure better use of the 999 system.

He said: "There is no excuse for misuse of the 999 system. However, Police Scotland does not plan to charge people for using it to report emergencies.

"Equal access for all to the police via 999 is at the heart of what we do.

"We are looking at ways our control centres work together in a single force to make the 999 service even more effective.

"Additionally, 101, the police non-emergency number which will be introduced, will make it easier for members of the public to contact the police when it is not appropriate to use 999."

A spokesman for Victim Support added: "From an organisation that represents more than 200,000 victims and witnesses, I don't think these comments are the most serious in the world."

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