Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has warned people about dressing as clowns, after the sinister craze has swept throughout the North East, including Northumberland.
Since the end of last month, Northumbria Police has seen a rise in the number of incidents involving people dressed as clowns around the region.
On Saturday, a costumed creep was spotted in Alnwick, while a page on Instagram entitled northeast clown killer issued a chilling warning that a figure would be in Amble, Widdrington, Hadston and Alnwick last weekend.
There have also been several reports in places such as Newcastle and Chester-le-Street.
Northumbria Police is working to reassure local communities and all local authorities within the Force area are urging schools to ask children not to dress as clowns and to ask for help if they are frightened.
Neighbourhood officers are visiting schools and those that have been affected have had increased high-visibility patrols during pick-up and drop-off times.
Vera Baird QC said: “I am sure this started as Hallowe’en fun, but when people are hiding in bushes, jumping out on members of the public or running around in open spaces it can be scary.
“A clown is effectively wearing a mask. Children in particular are complaining of being afraid. Parents are worrying that people with bad intentions can take advantage of the trend.
“My advice is just don’t dress as a clown. The fun has been spoilt now. You might well be misunderstood and end up in trouble and if you are out to scare you are likely to be committing an offence.
“I also understand that someone has published a list of locations where clowns plan to visit. I would urge anyone planning to do this not to – it looks deliberately intimidatory and it’s not acceptable.”
Police say that not all reports of clown sightings in Northumberland have been an indication of trouble.
Most of the clowns have turned out to be teenagers and one youngster was cautioned for possessing a knife.
There has been a small minority of calls to Northumbria Police where the behaviour of people dressed as clowns has caused harassment, alarm or distress which is a criminal offence and has been dealt with as such.
Ms Baird added: “This is not an outbreak of major crime, but I assure residents that Northumbria Police is taking it seriously. If anyone was planning to dress as a clown – don’t.
“If anyone does so and causes alarm and distress it is a criminal offence under the Public Order Act. Hallowe’en is not a justification for this behaviour.”
The so-called killer clown craze appears to have been inspired by pranks in South Carolina, where police received reports of people dresing as clowns in various locations. Since then, there have been copycat appearances worldwide.
Anyone who has any concerns should call police on 101.