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Mary
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When the 999 service was launched in London 75 years ago it was the world's first emergency phone number. What happened when it rang for the first time?

 

On 30 June 1937, the capital's new emergency telephone line was unveiled. A notice in the Evening News advised the public how to use it.

 

"Only dial 999... if the matter is urgent; if, for instance, the man in the flat next to yours is murdering his wife or you have seen a heavily masked cat burglar peering round the stack pipe of the local bank building.

 

"If the matter is less urgent, if you have merely lost little Towser or a lorry has come to rest in your front garden, just call up the local police."

 

 

A week later, on 7 July 1937, the press reported the first arrest after a 999 call.

 

John Stanley Beard was woken in the early hours of the morning by a noise underneath his bedroom window in the affluent neighbourhood of Hampstead, north London.

 

The architect told Marylebone Police Court that he looked out and saw a man's foot.

 

He shouted at the man who, on hearing Mr Beard's voice, ran off down the garden path, jumped over some railings and headed towards Primrose Hill.

 

Meanwhile, Mr Beard's wife - referred to in reports only as Mrs Beard - dialled 999.

 

In less than five minutes, 24-year-old labourer Thomas Duffy had been arrested. He was later charged with an attempted break-in with intent to steal.

 

In a public relations coup for the new service, the Times reported that Mr Beard told the court that he was pleased to see that his tax money was being put to good use.

 

"My wife made use of the new signal which we were instructed to use yesterday on the telephone, and as a result of using that signal almost instantaneous connection was made with the police station, and in less than five minutes this man was arrested," he said.

 

"It struck me, as a householder and fairly large taxpayer, that we are getting something for our money, and I was very much impressed by it."

I Wonder if people feel the same today, now that we expect help at our fingertips?

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