The ‘silent’ call that led to a dying woman just in time


Nicola Inkpin, West Yorkshire Police

How Nicola helped save the life of a domestic abuse victim who alerted police to her plight by a “silent” 999 call.

The incident required police call handler Nicola to listen intently to a traumatic, life or death situation, in order to identify clues to the location of the disturbance.

Nicola recalled: “I took the call and could hear a lot of commotion, arguing and fighting but no-one actually speaking to me. I recognised this was what we call a ‘silent call’ – there was a woman in distress who had made the call, wanted me to hear and wanted help, but was afraid to ask for it.

“There was a very violent man in the background. Shouting and screaming at the woman and she was screaming back at him.

“Then I heard her asking for an inhaler, but the man was verbally abusing her and wouldn’t let her have it.

“You could tell the woman couldn’t move. She was obviously crippled with fear and her breathing became really, really shallow and I thought ‘oh no, she’s going to die unless we can get to her’. She was in danger both from her violent partner and the risk of collapse as she couldn’t breathe.”

Nicola checked all the available systems but could not locate the call, other than that it was somewhere in Leeds.

“I heard the woman asking the man if he was going to ring for an ambulance, but every time she spoke she sounded weaker. Then I heard the man speaking to the ambulance service in a very aggressive way.

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“Then he gave a postcode and said it was above a hairdressers. I thought ‘bingo’ and we got police on the way to the scene. Soon after we received a call from the ambulance service saying they needed police assistance at the same address because there was a man being verbally violent and obstructive.

“The police arrived first and I could hear them in the background on the call. Apparently the woman was at death’s door. There was blood everywhere.

“There had been a domestic incident in which the man had smashed a glass table and the woman had used a piece of the glass to slash her wrists. As she got weaker that brought on her asthma.”

Nicola said it was frustrating to hear such a harrowing situation with the woman in such peril, without being able to intervene directly.

She added: “I couldn’t speak to her because the situation could have gone from bad to worse. If her partner had heard my voice he could have hung up the call and done anything to her without us knowing where they were.

“I had to listen but not speak. It made me feel a bit helpless at first, but I thought I just had to stay on the line until I got something that would enable us to locate the woman.

“The line could have cleared at any time, but I just held on in there. Fortunately, that was long enough to get the police to the scene just in time.”

The incident is just one of many distressing situations Nicola has handled in her eight years receiving thousands of 999 and 101 calls.

Her actions earned her a West Yorkshire Police Customer Contact Centre employee of the month award, but now she could receive national recognition via the first Control Room Awards launched by APD Communications, whose technology supports one in two UK police forces.

West Yorkshire Police Customer Contact Centre Head Tom Donohoe said: “Nicola’s handling of this call is just one of many examples of remarkable professionalism by our staff. I’m very proud of the team – they are real unsung heroes.

“The demands on control room staff are increasing and the complexity of calls is growing, but the constant is the professionalism, empathy, humanity and kindness that call handlers show to the public on a daily basis.”

Nominations for the Control Room Awards are open until January 18, 2018, with the awards ceremony taking place on March 8, 2018.

Nominations are now open

Nominations for the Control Room Awards are open until January 18, 2018, with the awards shortlists scheduled to be revealed on February 1, 2018.

To nominate an individual or team for the APD Control Room Awards, click here.

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Jane Cross