A word in your ear - December 8, 2011

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MANY years ago, a mate of mine got the shock of his life when he rang 999, made a raspberry noise with his mouth and put the phone down.

Half an hour later a police a car was at his front door. Precisely two minutes after that, his father took a slipper to him.

My mate’s tanned backside was a sharp reminder you shouldn’t mess with the ‘Old Bill’, and you especially shouldn’t mess with their phones.

Back in the late 1970s, the crank call was one step up from Knock and Run. I can remember phoning the operator once (do they still exist?) and asking if she was like the woman off Hong Kong Phooey – you know, Rosemary, the bespectacled minx who answered the dressing gown-wearing superhero’s calls.

My mate’s major step from calling 100 to 999 was one he never forgot, and neither did I for that matter.

Of course, he was seven years old, not as though that is an excuse, as proved by his father’s direct action.

What got me remembering this episode came at the weekend, when a hoax call led to lifeboat crews searching “challenging” seas.

The Morecambe Lifeboat was launched after the Coastguard received a 999 call stating a woman had been seen walking into the sea.

We’ve had such crank calls before. Last year, a hoax emergency call sparked a search by Lifeboat and Coastguard crews which cost £8,000.

The search, off the coast of Rhyl, was halted after an hour, when police found the call had come from Cheshire.

Who are these clowns who make such calls? Where do they get off sending our emergency services on a wild goose chase in treacherous conditions?

I take my hat off to the boys and girls of the RNLI. Unfunded by central government, they remain one of our most deserving charities.

Regular men and women with day jobs, on call at all hours, and out in all conditions to save lives.

During Lytham’s recent cockling debacle, I was stunned no one asked the cocklers to foot the bill left by their idiotic actions.

On an almost daily basis, lifeboats went out twice, even three times, to pick up so-called “fishermen” – some of who had bought their equipment off eBay, and were criminally ill-prepared for what to expect in the Ribble estuary.

The RNLI fights for every pound it gets. As the feature above shows charities are not having it easy

For every £1 the RNLI is given, 81p is spent on providing a rescue service, 3p is spent on preventative safety programmes and 16p is spent on generating voluntary income.

I’d say we get value for money.

So maybe it’s time rookie cocklers had to take out insurance as part of their licence, and when hoax callers are caught they are not only jailed, but made to cover the cost – every penny – of their fictional rescue operation.

Either that, or I’ll get my mate’s dad to go round with his slipper.