999 nuisance callers are putting people's lives at risk
For as long as any of us can remember the 999 emergency number has been a lifeline for those experiencing trauma in their lives, be it a sudden devastating illness or a criminal attack. With those three simple numbers help can be summoned and a tragedy averted.
So it is incredible to believe that police are inundated with many moronic calls, which by even the most creative stretch of the imagination could never be described as emergencies.
Take a look at our story today of the kind of calls police are being asked to respond to - the theft of a bag of rubbish, a teenager distraught that her brother would not get off his games console to do the dishes, and a caller wanting police to get rid of a television licensing official at her door even though she did not have a licence.
Last year, of the 71,146 emergency calls logged by police, only one in six was deemed worthy of an emergency response. That is a shameful waste of the operators' time, as each call has to be evaluated, and it is a disgraceful abuse of a valuable resource.
Just imagine someone who feels their home is under attack or who is witnessing a crime being committed trying to contact the police through the emergency number and finding it engaged. It could be a householder in the Newtownabbey area, where a travelling gang of thieves have carried out 17 burglaries in a four-day spell this week, and where police have appealed for the public to help them catch the criminals.
The police are under tremendous strain through reduced numbers and a reduced budget.
They find it difficult to get on top of crimes such as burglary, and they also have to contend with the ever-present dangers posed by dissident republican terrorists.
Those who abuse the 999 service are putting lives in danger, and the Justice Department should examine what sanctions should be imposed on those found guilty of nonsense calls. Perhaps that would make them exercise some common sense.