Hungry for a quick takeaway? Just dial 999

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The Independent Online
If you want to order a Chinese takeaway, force your teenager to turn down his hi-fi, or if you need help with closing the window, what number do you call?

For the people of Kent, the answer would appear to be 999.

Of the 170,000 emergency calls made to Kent constabulary last year only about a quarter had anything to do with the police. The vast bulk were for the trivial, the mundane and the absurd. Many Kent residents also appear to view 999 as a cheap alternative to Directory Enquiries.

The police have finally had enough. In two weeks' time anyone who telephones 999 and asks a detective to inform their mother that they are going to be late home - as someone did earlier this month - will be given a verbal clip round the ear.

The operator will switch the caller onto a pre-recorded message which says: "The 999 service is for emergencies requiring urgent police attendance. Your call does not require urgent police attendance and you may have endangered someone with a genuine emergency."

The 125,000 wasted 999 calls to Kent police last year included:

Requests for the frequencies of local radio stations, and phone numbers for the local Chinese restaurant and the Dorchester Hotel in London.

A caller saying: "My window has just been painted and I cannot shut it. Can the police do it?"

A man who had a stray cat in his house.

A woman who asked the police to turn down her son's stereo.

A pregnant motorist who wanted to know whether she should wear a seat belt.

The police message also gives a number for a free information service. In return for the tens of thousands of calls the company that runs the service is likely to get, they are paying for a pounds 100,000 campaign to publicise Kent's new 999 system.

Supt Robert Chidley, of Kent police, said: "This is the most important campaign we have ever waged. Abuse of the 999 service endangers everyone."

A police source was less diplomatic. "We're fed up of getting hoax calls from lazy and clueless people who are wasting valuable police time and putting lives at risk."