Parents panic over hoax

A hoax call to police on Wednesday claiming that two children had been abducted from outside Eastwood Primary School sent parents and other residents into a panic.

A call was made to the police emergency service 10111 claiming two of the school’s pupils had been abducted just outside the school by men driving a red Audi. The information was then forwarded to multiple community Whats­App groups across the city, causing mass panic. The Mountain Rise police were sent out to investigate, only to return to the station to report that the incident was a hoax.

Thursday morning, the Pietermaritzburg K9 Unit and the Search and Rescue team were called to Ivy Road in Bellevue to recover the body of a newborn baby that was reported to have been buried in a shallow grave in the area.

After lots of digging, all the team found was a tree root. The K9 dogs could not point out anything either and the incident was put down to a hoax.

Mountain Rise police spokesperson Captain Gay Ebrahim said on Thursday that hoax calls to police are very serious.

“Any hoax call has lots of repercussions especially in terms of logistics, manpower, resources, and the officers’ other work,” said Ebrahim.

“It is really not a joke. It causes so much panic over social media and then we have to try to do damage control.”

Ebrahim said the station had received around 20 calls from concerned parents and residents following the hoax message regarding the alleged pupil abductions.

She said hoax calls may prevent other emergency calls coming through and said the time spent on attending to the false calls impacted on police attending more demanding matters.

A police source, who asked not to be named, said of the 1 800 calls a week received by 10111, up to 1 000 might be hoaxes.

“It is a waste of time, petrol and manpower. We spend time on these hoaxes when we could be attending to proper complaints.”

The source said they experienced at least two or three hoax calls a day and that these calls often delayed police from reaching a real emergency.

The source added that the false calls cause unneccessary panic and they also have a very wide reach now with social media spreading the news.

Eastwood Primary School receptionist Lynn de Vries said she had just left the school when the hoax message came through on Wednesday. She said the deputy principal had confirmed it was a hoax but said that she had had people messaging her on Facebook and Whats­App to ask about the incident.

“This morning [Thursday] our phones were ringing off the hook.

“Parents wanted to know if it was safe to send their children to school. One parent asked if it really was a hoax because she could not believe someone would make something like that up. Whoever made the call and sent the message needs to be prosecuted,” she said.

HOAX CALLS 'A FORM OF ABUSE'

Pietermaritzburg clinical psychologist Clive Willows said on Thursday that although he had never dealt with someone who had made hoax calls, he believes that hoax calls to police are a form of abuse.

He said the hoax caller would be aware of their power to influence emotions. “It is sadistic in the way that the person makes a decision to cause emotional stress to others just because they have the power to do so. Given the stress it causes, it should be viewed as a serious crime and should come with a penalty.”