LONDON – The sinister clown scare is spreading worldwide.
The bizarre craze seemed to be confined to the US, where sightings of so-called creepy clowns emerged in the late summer. But it now looks like the fancy dress frenzy has spread across the seas.
It may seem a funny prank to scare unsuspecting victims ahead of Halloween but police in the UK are warning against participating in the hoax. Authorities across the country have responded to an increasing number of incidents involving people in clown outfits.
“Dressing up as a clown to scare people may seem like a joke, but it is no laughing matter,” Cumbria Superintendent Mark Pannone said. “The fear of such incidents is deeply upsetting children in Cumbria and causing them a great deal of distress.”
On Sunday, Cumbria Police said it received nine clown-related reports including one who was holding a knife and another a stick. Thames Valley Police said it responded to 14 incidents in 24 hours over the weekend.
And police in Durham in the northeast of England are investigating after a man dressed as a clown and wielding a knife is alleged to have followed four children to school on Friday morning.
“The children arrived at school understandably upset and distressed by this incident and we are currently trying to locate this man,” neighborhood Sergeant Mel Sutherland said in a statement.
“We believe this to be part of a much larger prank which is currently sweeping across the USA and parts of the UK. It is very alarming he was carrying a knife, however we do not think he intended to harm the children and as far as we are aware, this is part of the prank.”
Authorities are urging people to forgo the mischievous fun as the reports are taking vital resources away from other crime investigations.
“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 behavior on others and themselves,” Thames Valley chief superintendent Andy Boyd said in a statement.
“Their behavior is causing multiple reports to our call takers and is tying up police resources which could impact on calls to other incidents.”
And it’s not just pranksters in the UK who are clowning around. Authorities in Australia and Canada have also issued clown-related cautions in the last several days.
Victoria Police in Australia told CNN that they are aware of copycat incidents and warned that “any intimidating and threatening as well as anti-social behaviors will not be tolerated.” They urged those in their community to contact their local station if concerned.
According to Google Trends, interest in clowns tends to spike each year ahead of Halloween on October 31 but a wave of creepy clowns spotted around the US has brought with it a frenzy of panic.
Reports of clowns around the neighborhood first emerged in South Carolina towards the end of August but has since filled up countless social feeds as imitators don their own masks.