TROUBLEMAKERS have made more than 7,500 hoax calls to the police and ambulance service in the South West in the last three years, new figures have revealed.

Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by The Burnham and Highbridge Weekly News show between August 2015 and August 2018, 5,804 hoax calls were made to Avon and Somerset Police.

And figures from another FOI request show between August 2015 and July 2018, 2,165 hoax calls were made to South Western Ambulance Service.

In a bid to crackdown on the problem, Avon and Somerset Police launched a new Twitter account, @ASPolice, as part of a campaign to encourage people to think before they call and help reduce demand on the non-emergency 101 line.

Police have revealed staff in the force's communications centre answer an average of 2,200 calls to 101 each day and say calls to 999 are fewer but always prioritised, with more than 95 per cent being answered inside 10 seconds.

However, police say they continue to see times of peak demand and are encouraging people to think before they call, and look online if it’s not urgent.

Becky Tipper, communications centre manager at Avon and Somerset Police, said: “Our specialist call handlers do an outstanding job, answering thousands of calls each day to help the public with a range of emergency and non-emergency issues.

"We do see common times of peak demand and we would encourage people to check our website as many of the non-urgent matters can be dealt with effectively via our force website using a simple and easy to use online form.”

"The nature of policing today means we must place calls about threat, harm and risk at the very top of the list for our officers to respond.

"We want to encourage people to help us in protecting those people who are most vulnerable by thinking before they call us and asking themselves, is their call really important and necessary?”

South Western Ambulance Service has also been struggling with hoax callers and has been urging parents to keep an eye on their mobile phones after figures released in August showed paramedics were distracted from 91 emergencies as a result of 774 hoax calls being made in 2017.

The service said calls made in good faith which turn out to be unnecessary are not recorded as hoax calls.

Ken Wenman, chief executive of South Western Ambulance Service, said: “Making hoax calls can put lives at risk.

"We strongly encourage parents to impress upon their children the importance of only dialing 999 in a genuine emergency situation.

"It is vital that people understand and appreciate the consequences associated with making hoax calls.

"We work with the police and other partners to seek the prosecution of people who abuse the 999 system.”