Hoax calls rise by 4 per cent since start of strike

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The number of hoax calls to the fire brigade has risen by 4 per cent since the start of the strike on Friday, figures revealed yesterday.

The number of hoax calls to the fire brigade has risen by 4 per cent since the start of the strike on Friday, figures revealed yesterday.

In total, 950 of the 9,000 callers who have rung temporary call centres to report a fire have not been genuine, raising the level of false calls, which normally stands at about 6 per cent, to almost 10 per cent, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) said.

A spokesman for the ACPO said: "Many of the false callers are likely to be children having a lark but others will be people who are hell bent on embarrassing the authorities and adding to the chaos. This is immensely foolish behaviour which will not be tolerated and the culprits can expect severe penalties."

Ministers have warned that those abusing the system will be fast-tracked through the courts and given a six-month prison sentence or a hefty fine.

Justin Cole, a spokesman for the Fire Co-ordination Centre, which has been set up to organise temporary call centres during the strike, said that the hoaxers could be traced easily through the switchboard.

He added that where the call had been made from a mobile phone, the user's service provider would be contacted and asked to cut the user off.

"We will certainly be asking service providers to cut the user off and it will be up to them to meet this request and cut off irresponsible users," he said.

A total of 374 of the fake calls for help had been traced and the caller's number identified, the Home Office said yesterday. While 312 of the calls were from land lines, 62 were found to have been made from mobile phones and in 46 cases the service provider had already been contacted to request the user to be disconnected.

Those making hoax calls from land lines also risk disconnection.

Bob Ainsworth, a Home Office minister, said: "The Government, with the support of the Chief Police Officers across the UK, the Ambulance Service Association and the Chief and Assistant Fire Chief Officers Association, have outlined tough measures to crack down on time-wasters.

"The revised procedures cover mobiles and land lines and will be in force for the duration of the fire dispute."

A 20-year-old man from Stafford is facing prosecution for three hoax calls made to an emergency communications centre in the space of 50 minutes.

The man was interviewed after the call centre received false reports in the early hours of Saturday that a man was trapped in a burning shop, that a fish and chip pan was on fire and that there had been a three vehicle pile-up involving trapped motorists.

A 19-year-old man from Breightmet in Greater Manchester was also arrested yesterday after a number of calls were made to the emergency services about a chip pan fire at a house in Bolton.