POLICE are warning hoax callers that they risk ending up behind bars after officers were inundated with time-wasting reports.
Hartlepool Police has received a spate of nuisance calls from the Headland area of the town since the turn of the year, with officers having to respond to each of the calls in case there is a real need for police assistance.
Anyone found guilty of making a hoax call could end up with a prison sentence of up to six months or with a hefty fine and a criminal record.
Police chiefs say it is such a serious offence as it takes up the time of officers who could be needed at severe or life-threatening incidents.
A Cleveland Police spokeswoman said: "Hoax calls to the police not only abuse the system that is there to protect the public but take vital resources away from people who are in need.
"It is not funny or clever and we will continue to clamp down on those who make hoax calls."
Police warn that they have systems in place to trace calls and pinpoint who has contacted them.
They also work closely with communications firms to trace malicious calls from either landlines, mobiles or public telephone kiosks.
There is also an extensive CCTV network in the town that records footage that can be used to find those who have wasted police time.