In memory of Hannah Foster

Usually I give Ofcom consultations a quick speed read, just to be aware what’s happening. Sometimes I even get lucky and a competitor writes up a consultation before I’ve even read it, saving me more time. (Hat tip, as we say on Twitter, to Rob Bratby and his blog post Rules applicable to all UK telecoms operators to change, which I picked up during school half-term.)

So this brings me to the Ofcom’s consultation dated 24 February 2011 discussed by Rob: Changes to General Conditions and Universal Service Conditions. Unless you’re in the telecoms regulatory business, I’d give it a miss.  One of the changes proposed did, however, catch my attention.  Ofcom has considered the amendments required by the Citizens’ Rights Directive 2009/136/EC to the EU framework for telecoms regulation, and in particular the requirement to introduce equivalent access to emergency services for disabled people.  It proposes that this be done in the UK by requiring mobile operators to provide an emergency SMS service.

I have 2 lovely daughters, aged 18 and 16.  Like most dads of teenage girls, I want them to be safe and I worry about them, but I realise that they have social lives to live.  Until recently they lived in Southampton, not too far away from The Hobbitt in Bevois Valley.  This is a popular student pub – I used to go there myself when I was an undergraduate at Southampton.  Sadly, it is also where Hannah Foster, aged 17, went on the night of 14 March 2003, the night she was abducted on her way home, raped and murdered.  On 25 November 2008, Maninder Pal Singh Kohli, then aged 41, was found guilty on the charges of kidnap, rape and murder at Winchester Crown Court and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommended minimum term of 24 years.

During the trial, evidence of Hannah’s last movements derived from her mobile phone records was critical.  Also included in the trial, but not conclusive evidence to convict her killer, were recordings of her 999 call.  She knew she was in danger, so made what is known as a silent emergency call by dialling 999 on her mobile in her pocket.  There is a police protocol to deal with these silent calls, but it is recognised that particularly with the advent of mobile phones, most of these silent emergency calls are accidental.  If the police get no response, following their protocol, they terminate the call.  This happened in Hannah’s case, so tragically her call for help went unheeded.

As a result of this and similar incidents, some emergency call centres (such as in Hampshire) will respond to requests for emergency services sent by text message to 80999.  However, as far as I am aware, no location data is forwarded with the 80999 text message. So I look forward to the introduction of full emergency SMS. Hopefully, as well as providing for the intended access to emergency services for disabled people, this will finally deal with the problem of silent emergency calls so that the next girl in trouble will be saved.

PS

112 is the European Union emergency telephone number, and also the default number on all GSM (2G) mobile phone networks, which convert 112 calls automatically to the relevant national number.  Even though this was introduced in 1991, my anecdotal evidence suggests that this is still not widely recognised in the UK. Surely we ought to teach this as the standard emergency number, particularly for use on mobiles?

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