One of the most significantly reported “clown incidents” occurred on Friday 7th October when an individual dressed as a clown carrying a knife jumped out in front of a group of 11 and 12-year-olds and followed them to school in County Durham.
It appears that the intention is usually to film the reaction of the clowns’ victims which is then posted on social media. There has been no reported physical violence or threats of harm involved. However, the fact that this is viewed by some as being harmless fun does not mean that those engaged in this type of activity have not committed an offence.
What criminal offence could have been committed?
The most obvious offences that you may have committed if you were arrested after a “clown incident” would be under the Public Order Act 1986. These offences include the following:
- Disorderly Conduct – Section 5A person is guilty of an offence if he (a) uses threatening or abusive words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any write, sign or ostensible representation which is threatening or abusive,Within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.
This offence only attracts a financial penalty.
There are defences that the conduct was reasonable or that the alleged offender had no reason to believe that there was any person within hearing or sight who was likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress. Neither defence appears to apply when the intention would be to cause alarm and distress, which is the main purpose behind behaving in this way.
- Threatening Behaviour – Section 4This offence is committed if a person uses towards another person threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause that person to believe that unlawful violence will be used against him or another by any person.A person guilty of an offence under this Section is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a financial penalty.
It is open to someone accused of an offence under this Section to argue that they do not believe that their behaviour was not threatening, abusive or insulting but once again the circumstances may appear to contradict that. However, the argument that the accused did not intend to cause that person to believe that immediate unlawful violence would be used against them is potentially more persuasive.
- Affray – Section 3A person is guilty of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as it would cause a person a reasonable conduct present at the scene to fear for his personal safety.A person guilty of affray could face a maximum term of three years imprisonment on convictions the Crown court or 6 months in the Magistrates Court.
In this case, the prosecution must prove that the defendant has used or threatened unlawful violence towards another and it may be argued by the defence that a prosecution under this Section is a case of overcharging. It would depend on the circumstances. Certainly if the “killer clown” was in possession of a knife then this element of the offence would appear to be satisfied.
Indeed, if an offender had in his possession a knife or other weapon there are two further offences that may have been committed:-
- Offence of having article with blade or point in a public place contrary to Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988
The defence for a person charged with this offence to prove that he had reasonable lawful authority for having the article with him in a public place is not likely to succeed if he is carrying a chainsaw or machete!
- Possession of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.
In this case, the prosecution would need to prove that the defendant had an offensive weapon. The court has previously identified three categories of offensive weapons:-
- Those made for use for causing injury to the person, that is a weapon that is offensive per say.
- Those adapted for causing injury to the person, such as a bottle deliberately broken in order that the jagged end may be inserted into the victim’s face and
An object not so made or adapted, but one which the person carrying intends to use for the purpose of causing injury to the person.
In the case of a knife, it would be necessary for the prosecution to prove there was an intention to cause injury. This is more difficult to prove and usually, the prosecution would decide to prosecute for possession of a bladed article.
Those convicted of being in possession of a knife, even those who plead guilty and are of good character, frequently attract an immediate custodial sentence. There is a 6-month minimum sentence for second strike knife possession.
The police will be investigating these reports, they will take steps to trace social media posts to the source through internet providers if need be.
Many of those who participate will be young people who haven’t had dealings with the police or courts before and could face the prospect of a criminal record.
If the police wish to speak to you it is important to obtain legal advice and representation. We provide 24/7 emergency on-call service for police station attendances. Please call us if you need advice and assistance.