Fancy dress shops have been asked not to sell clown costumes to anyone they think might be a prankster amid the ongoing “killer clown” craze.
Forces across the UK have warned that jokers or criminals using the costumes to scare innocent members of the public will face arrest - as they deal with a wave of reports.
Officers in Newcastle and Gateshead have visited shops to ask them not to sell the costumes to anyone they suspect might be up to no good, as the US-born fad continues to grip the UK.
Some of the slew of incidents reported to police have involved offensive weapons, while in Cumbria, where police have dealt with 23 reports in 24 hours, a boy aged 13 was arrested and bailed for malicious communications, after a girl of the same age in Kendal received Instagram messages from someone posing as a clown threatening to cut her throat and rape her.
There have also been serious injuries, with the Mirror reporting that kickboxer Simon Chinery, 28, had his fingers cut “to the bone” when he tried to disarm a knife-wielding clown, while 17-year-old Owen Russell told the Sheffield Star he needed stitches after a tree branch was thrown at him by an attacker wearing a clown costume.
Elsewhere, Kent Police received reports of 59 clown-related incidents between October 7 and 10, while Thames Valley Police dealt with 14 reports in the space of 24 hours at the weekend.
On Wednesday South Yorkshire Police said it had received 61 reports since September 21, including two of clowns with knives.
And Scotland Yard revealed that armed officers from the force’s aviation unit had arrested a suspect wearing a clown mask and carrying a fake gun in Hillingdon, west London, on Tuesday, about five miles from Heathrow Airport.
On Tuesday, an 18-year-old, from Penyrheol, Caerphilly, was landed with what is thought to be the first criminal record connected with the “killer clowns” when he was issued with a fixed penalty notice and fined £90 for a public order offence.
Gwent Police said they responded to reports that a man dressed as a clown had been intimidating children outside St Cenydd Comprehensive School in Caerphilly.
The craze has led McDonald’s bosses in the US to reduce the number of public appearances by the fast food giant’s clown mascot Ronald McDonald.
But despite the furore retailer Angels Fancy Dress, which has two London stores and trades online as fancydress.com, said it had no plans to withdraw clown costumes despite seeing a “clear surge” in demand.
It said it was not its responsibility to “withdraw a technically inoffensive item in response to a fad”.