False Reports to Triple-Zero Putting Lives at Risk

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Emergency services phone call

By Blake O’Connor and Ugur Nedim

Aesop was a slave and storyteller who lived in Ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BC, and ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ was one of his most famous fables.

The story is about a shepherd who repeatedly but falsely told his fellow villagers that wolves were attacking his flock. When a wolf actually appeared, the boy cried for help but the villagers thought it was another false alarm and ignored his pleas. The wolves at the flock.

Fast forward a couple thousand years, and Aesop’s cautionary tale is being repeated in Australia with some making false calls to triple-zero, affecting our emergency services’ ability to respond to calls, and sometimes having to scrutinise pleas for help.

The woman who cried wolf

Wollongong woman Lynda Finlay has been accused of repeatedly making false reports to triple-zero whilst drunk. She has been refused bail whilst awaiting her court hearing.

Court documents allege Ms Finlay called emergency services four times in eight hours to report that she was “unconscious and needed to go to hospital”.

After being transported to hospital twice, she quickly left of her own accord. On the third occasion, the ambulance was unable to locate her, and on the fourth a senior police officer attended to find her heavily under the influence of alcohol.

Police later discovered Ms Finlay had attempted to call triple-zero 22 times over a seven day period but, on many occasions, failed to get through because she dialled too many zeros.

Magistrate Susan McGowan refused bail, citing Ms Finlay’s history of similar offences and failure to comply with court orders.

“She’s obviously in need of help … but at this stage there are no bail conditions that could mitigate against the risk she poses to the community”, Her Honour found.

Putting lives at risk

The Queensland Ambulance Service is frustrated by a recent influx in false calls, saying they are having a “staggering” impact on its ability to perform its function, with serial offenders putting lives at risk.

One such offender is Valerie Dawn Gough, who pleaded guilty in Caboolture Magistrates Court to 16 charges of improperly using the emergency service number, after having already been convicted of a whopping 302 counts of the same charge.

After the case, Senior Sergeant David Crawford-Raby stated:

“Any misuse of the 000 service puts everyone in the community at risk … this case has had a staggering impact on the ambulance service here and the misuse of that service comes at a terrible cost … the service is for genuine emergencies and the flow-on effect (of it being abused) is quite significant”.

Improper use of emergency number

Section 474.18 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) makes it an offence to improperly use an emergency call service.

The section says that a person who makes a call to an emergency number for a purpose other than reporting an emergency, in circumstances where the call is vexatious, is subject to a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.

In determining whether a call is vexatious, the court must have regard to its content, the number, frequency and content of any previous calls to the number other than for reporting emergencies, and any other relevant matter.

The message is clear: triple-zero is reserved for emergencies, and any misuse of the number is not only a criminal offence, but can put people in danger.

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