Serial Rapper Ties Up Emergency Line In U.K.

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A caller to the emergency line in Manchester, England, has been holding up callers by rapping in a Jamaican accent. He's been doing this since January 2009, and the police have been unable to catch him. Robert Siegel talks to Mark Hughes, crime correspondent for The Independent in the U.K., about the case.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From Manchester, England, comes a story that's also about the police, crime and the community. A story that also poses these questions about public safety: Why would a prankster repeatedly call 999, the equivalent of 911, and record long rapping rants? When can the police safely dismiss a call to the emergency line as a crank call and hang up? And if someone does this repeatedly, why can't the police find him?

Well, this week the police in Manchester released a couple of recordings of what at least sounds like a male caller with a very thick Jamaican accent.

(Soundbite of 999 call)

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman: Hello.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman: Hello. Are you talking to me, or are you talking to somebody else?

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman: Are you talking - are you talking to me, sir, is that what you're saying?

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

SIEGEL: And this goes on for over two minutes.

Mark Hughes is crime correspondent for the British daily The Independent, and he's written about this story.

And, Mark Hughes, how long has this been going on, and how many calls have there been?

Mr. MARK HUGHES (Crime Correspondent, The Independent): This started in January 2009, and since then there have been 3,000 - more than 3,000 calls, the equivalent of about 10 a day. They say sometimes he kind of quietens down, and other times he's more persistent. In the past three months, there have been 715 calls.

SIEGEL: Now, a police spokesman said that the emergency line could be blocked by his calls that could put out somebody with a genuine emergency. Why don't they just hang up on this guy?

Mr. HUGHES: From what they tell me, they have to treat every call as if it's genuine. Even though from listening to that call there, it's kind of apparent to everybody that, you know, after a few seconds, it's quite obvious it's not genuine.

They fear that if they dismiss him immediately and it turns out he did have a genuine emergency, then obviously, there will be all sorts of hell to pay. So they're obliged to listen to him - from what I was told yesterday - for between two and three minutes.

SIEGEL: Two and three minutes. Well, this raises another question. How is it that the police cannot locate the person who has placed thousands of hoax calls to the emergency number?

Mr. HUGHES: There's all sorts of technology nowadays, and we all know that the police can trace phones and things like that. They have identified his telephone number on 60 occasions. And as soon as they identify it, they block the phone number. They've blocked 60 different phone numbers, but he just keeps buying new phones.

They've worked with mobile phone operators to establish a region of Manchester he lives in. There's a region called Moss Side and Old Trafford. They know he lives in one of those two areas, but just haven't been able to identify who he is.

SIEGEL: Well, by releasing these two recordings, I assume there's an outreach effort there to the community to, you know, if you recognize who this man is, please tell us.

Is this a community where people will assist the police?

Mr. HUGHES: Moss Side - how do you put this without being too kind of offensive? The community of Moss Side is a troubled area. There's a lot of kind of crime there, and one of the things that the police say is that the community don't trust the police and are unwilling to help the police.

People may well recognize this man, but whether they're going to then give him up is another question entirely.

SIEGEL: If he's found, what happens? Would he be charged with a crime or what's likely?

Mr. HUGHES: Of course, he could be charged with wasting police time. It costs Greater Manchester Police a thousand pounds a month to deal with this guy. They've worked that figure out by, you know, they have to stay on the phone to him for two or three minutes. If it happens 10 times a day, that's half an hour. So it's half an hour of someone's daily salary. Multiply that by 30 days of the month.

But, yeah. You know, there are - there's precedent of people who say that a crime is being committed, it turns out no crime has been committed. And then the police would charge that person with wasting police time. This, I'd imagine, would be a very similar situation. I suppose it's up to the police or up to the Crime Prosecution Services if this man is caught.

SIEGEL: This would be serial wasting of police time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HUGHES: Yeah, yeah, I think that would be the very definition of it, wouldn't it?

SIEGEL: Well, Mark Hughes, thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. HUGHES: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Mr. Hughes is the crime correspondent for the British paper The Independent, talking about the serial rapper who's been calling the police emergency line in Manchester for the past year and a half.

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