999 operator sacked for fit of giggles

25 October 2013 
AN emergency call handler has been sacked for being too jolly.
Sue Heeney, 38, says she chuckled with a nervous 999 caller to put him at ease.
But Essex Police dismissed her for gross misconduct.
Miss Heeney, who’d been in the job for four years, says she was simply trying to lighten the moment when caller Paul Turner rang to report a family member for alleged drink-driving, after much agonising.
She said: “People need to know they are talking to a friendly human, not a robot, and you can build a rapport with them.
“Friendly and helpful is what the public wants.”
The laughter came while the caller was giving the registration number of the car used by the suspected drink-driver.
The pair chuckled after the caller used “E as in Edward” while Miss Heeney suggested “echo” at the same time.
A recording of the conversation reveals the caller laughs first. Saying: “I don’t know the proper one”.
After some giggling by both, the caller adds in a friendly manner “You will be laughing all night now”.
Mr Turner, who made the call in November 2012, was shocked to learn she’d been sacked.
He said: “I was very nervous about making the call but through her professionalism I was able to tell her everything that happened and all the details.
“If she had not been so good, or if I’d had someone blunt and rude, I would have hung up.”
Sue’s employers Essex Police failed to see the funny side. She was suspended on full pay last December, a month after the call, and was later sacked for gross misconduct.
Now, the mother-of-two, of Mandeville Road, Marks Tey, Colchester, Essex, has launched an appeal and is speaking out about her treatment.
She said: “I was told I was being too jolly, laughing and happy on the phone.
“The grounds given were I could have potentially put someone’s life at risk and have a dangerous effect on public confidence.
“It was not at his expense - he said something funny and I laughed with him. It got him over his nerves and helped him to relax.
”I’ve since spoken to the caller and he can’t believe what has happened.
Since being sacked by the force after four years of employment, Ms Heeney has found alternative work.
She has will find out next month whether she can get her job back at police HQ in Springfield.
She added: “I am devastated and has been the hardest year of my life.
“It has been awful, changed my personality and crushed me.
“I’m normally an upbeat, friendly, happy person anyway, and to be told I am too jolly and turn it down - I don’t know how to do it.
“It completely destroyed me, especially being told I was an embarrassment to Essex Police.
“I loved the job I was doing, I had no intention of ever leaving.
“If you have an impression on someone’s life because they are in distress and you’ve made it better it is so rewarding.
“There have been calls where I have literally saved someone’s life.”
A spokesman for Essex Police said: “Essex Police can confirm the civilian member of staff was dismissed from the force for gross misconduct following an allegation of negligence.
“An appeal against the dismissal has been made and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
In the hearing adjudication Essex Police also raised concerns about the way Miss Heeney graded the call and that she “failed to grasp the seriousness and urgency of the situation”.
Miss Heeney admitted she mis-graded the call, but added the call was made more than three hours after the alleged incident.
 

**panel**
PAUL Turner dialled 999 on November 9, 2012 to report a suspected drunk driver he believed had been involved in an accident.
He made the call, which involved a family member, after much deliberation over the impact it might have on his family relationship.
Mr Turner, from Wivenhoe, was shocked to find the operator who handled his call had been sacked because of it, and praised her professionalism.
He said: “Sue has been given a very raw deal and treated unfairly.
“I thought she was very professional and kept me calm.
“I was very nervous about making the call but through her professionalism I was able to tell her everything that happened and all the details.
“If she had not been so good, or if I’d had someone blunt and rude, I would have hung up.
“When I was put through I froze, but a little bit of banter relaxed me and helped me to get through it.
“I find it rather harsh Sue has been sacked and I would imagine it has had an impact on her life.
“When you think how many thousands of calls she has taken over the years and saved people’s lives - could they not have given a written warning if there was really something wrong?”