Bid to help caller in distress fails

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When Christine Oliver found messages on her answering machine from a distressed old woman, she wanted to help.

But her efforts met with frustration because nobody seemed able to act on the information.

Mrs Oliver said: “There were three messages about five minutes long. The lady was shouting for someone to help her up. I could hear the telly blasting out and it seemed to be someone who could get to the phone and was making a lot of noise.

“She was asking for someone called Helen. I’m guessing that was a carer or a neighbour.”

Mrs Oliver, of Lower Green, Higham, tried 1471 but a cold caller had rung after the woman.

When Mrs Oliver dialled 999, the handler in police control consulted a supervisor and, she says, told her that they could do nothing if she didn’t have the person’s number.

“The police said that it was data protection,” she said. “They said they can trace it but they would have to do lots of paperwork.”

After a frustrating tour through BT’s ‘press number...’ she says she had a similar response.

Mrs Oliver added: “I didn’t sleep well that night. I hope she got who she wanted.”

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Data Protection authority, said: “The Data Protection Act doesn’t stop people sharing information if there’s a clear justification for doing so. It would appear there was clear justification.”

A Suffolk Police spokesman confirmed that they could trace numbers subject to a safeguarding system of approvals but it is only done where there is reasonable concern for life.

The 999 log says they were told that during three long calls the woman did not ask for help. “If she was in that much trouble we feel she would have made a call to someone else or 999,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman added that Mrs Oliver had told them the television in the background appeared to be playing lunchtime news and the 999 call was logged at 9.15pm. “With the authorisation from everyone and the phone work, you would be talking about several hours after that,” he said. “Had she taken the call at the time, it might have been different.”