Creepy clown craze: 'Nobody’s laughing’
Are they pranksters after a laugh or criminals spreading terror? The craze to dress up as a clown and spread fear appears to be gathering pace in the UK.The unlikely phenomenon, an import from the US, has become the talk of the school playground and is keeping police on their toes.
Schools are being forced into lockdown, children are terrified and police officers are handling hundreds of claims of sightings, reports suggest.
Now, ahead of Halloween, parents, head teachers, police officers and even the clown industry, are grappling with how to calm the craze.
Charlene Paterson, a mother from the north east of England, has seen at first hand the impact of the creepy clown craze.
When clowns threatened a number of high schools in Newcastle, her daughter’s was put into “lockdown” to make sure no one came in or went out, she said.
The effect was far-reaching, she told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
"It’s general fear, not just in her [daughter] but in all of her friends and everybody else in the high school.
"Who’s behind the masks? You don’t know. Nobody knows.
“You don’t know if it’s a 15-year-old that’s looking for a giggle or a 30-year-old man who’s looking to do something far, far different.”
She described another incident in which five people dressed as clowns chased a group of 11-year-old children through their local park.
"It’s not fair - it’s certainly not funny.
“And it’s going to get to the point where parents are going to start protecting their kids, stopping them from being scared.”
She said she knew one five-year-old girl who had been left so terrified by the craze that she was having sleepless nights.
“That’s not right - children shouldn’t have that fear,” she told the programme.
Vera Baird QC, Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said the police there had handled several hundred clown sightings, of which 13 or 14 were offences.
One was a 13-year-old boy who was dressed as a clown and carrying a sharp knife, she said.
“I’m sure it started off as just fun,” she told Victoria Derbyshire.
"I think it’s been a little bit taken over by some sinister people and now nobody knows who’s in which camp and so the overall right message is to say: ‘don’t go outside dressed as a clown because people are going to take it the wrong way’.
“The trouble is the level of worry goes up with every story and so a clown who might just be joking becomes a frightening figure.”
She advises calling the police if someone is scaring you, even if you think it may be a joke.
So the clown scare is hitting the UK.