'Killer clown' craze 'wasting police resources'
The "killer clown" craze has continued to spread across the UK with one force dealing with 14 reports in 24 hours.
Officers have been called to a string of incidents where pranksters or criminals dress as clowns try to scare innocent bystanders.
Chief Superintendent Andy Boyd, of Thames Valley Police - whose force received the 14 calls - warned that the trend, which started in the United States, is a waste of police resources.
He said: "While we do not want to be accused of stopping people enjoying themselves, we would also ask those same people to think of the impact of their behaviour on others and themselves.
"Their actions can cause fear and anxiety to other people, this could be perceived to be intimidating and threatening which could lead to public order offences, arrest and a criminal record.
"In addition, their behaviour is causing multiple reports to our call takers and is tying up police resources which could impact on calls to other incidents.
"While we realise that reports of this kind are not restricted to the Thames Valley area, the issues of intimidation, potential arrest and waste of public resources are the same across the country and we would urge people to refrain from such activity."
His concerns were echoed by Chief Inspector Paul Staniforth from Gwent Police, which has now dealt with 18 reports including clowns "running through gardens and peering through windows, lurking around shopping centres, parks and schools and jumping from trees".
Mr Staniforth said: " The behaviour of these individuals has the potential to cause shock and panic and we are extremely concerned that this could result in somebody becoming seriously injured or unwell.
"Anyone seeking to cause distress and potential harm to anyone will be arrested. Another serious issue that people taking part in this craze are not thinking of is the impact on our resources. Every call that comes in, is taking our officers away from people that need us most."
Terrified victims have taken to social media to document the encounters. Shaneice Price, 22, from Bloxwich, in Walsall, posted footage on Twitter of a red-hair clown who she claims tried to get into her car on Sunday.
Sporting Adidas tracksuit bottoms and a beanie hat, the clown can be seen running across the road towards the driver's door of her car.
She told the Press Association: " He followed me to the pub. He pointed at me and gestured that he would slit my throat, stared at me for five minutes and then left."
In another incident, George Birkbeck said he spotted a sinister figure holding a hammer in a Tesco car park in Plymouth on Friday.
He brandished a beer bottle at the apparent prankster, seen wearing orange dungarees and make-up which mimicked Batman's 'Joker' character, who then ran off.
Elsewhere, in Norwich a 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of public order offences after allegedly dressing as a clown and jumping out on a woman in a park, screaming and then chasing her.
The victim was walking through Eaton Park in the city at around 8.24pm on Sunday when she was targeted in the creepy prank.
A string of other forces across Britain have dealt with reports in recent days of people dressed as clowns acting suspiciously and frightening members of the public.
A masked man carrying a knife left a group of children aged 11 and 12 "upset and distressed" when he jumped out on them on their way to the Hermitage Academy in Chester-le-Street, County Durham, at 8.40am on Friday.
A separate report saw two 12-year-old boys, one wearing a clown mask and another a V for Vendetta mask, go to Howletch Lane Primary School in Peterlee to try to scare children in the playground.
In Suffolk, a boy "younger than a teenager" was chased by "several people dressed as clowns" in Beatty Road, Sudbury, at 8pm on Thursday, Suffolk Police said.
Police in areas including South Wales, Gloucestershire, Bedfordshire, Essex and the North East have also dealt with a string of incidents.
Last week a cyclist riding in Eastbourne, East Sussex, reported seeing a person dressed as a clown jump out from a bush holding a suspected offensive weapon.
Inspector Simon Starns, of Sussex Police, said: "We will respond if someone feels threatened and the culprit could end up being arrested and then they won't find it so funny."
On Sunday, Cumbria Police received nine reports from across the county of incidents involving clowns - one brandishing a knife and another a stick. Other incidents were reported in Whitehaven, Carlisle and Kendal.
Surrey and Hampshire police forces have also received reports of intimidating clowns. Superintendent Duncan Greenhalgh, of Surrey Police, said: "We have received a number of reports of people being intimidated or frightened by others dressed as clowns.
"We have also received a number of calls in relation to reports on social media of clowns coming to Surrey.
"At the very least, their actions can cause fear and distress to other people. Their behaviour could also lead to them being arrested for a public order offence.
"On some occasions these sightings have generated multiple reports to our call takers, which could divert resources away from responding to other incidents."
Superintendent Paul Bartolomeo, of Hampshire police, said: "We don't want to be killjoys but some of these incidents have been extremely frightening for those involved.
"Also, by taking part in this craze, people could find themselves in a situation which leads to a public order incident. They could be arrested and ultimately end up with a criminal record.
"These incidents are also taking up valuable police time and resources, and will ultimately have an impact on other calls coming into the control room and officers attending other incidents."