'Creepy clowns' craze: Professionals hit out at pranksters
Professional clowns have hit out at pranksters who have been dressing up as "creepy clowns" to intimidate and frighten people across the UK.
Police have been inundated with reports of "clowns" jumping out, chasing people and even carrying "weapons" - and have warned them they could face action.
But the craze has left real clowns feeling frustrated their profession is being portrayed in a negative way.
A World Clown Association executive said the trend was "disappointing".
The culprits are said to be following a trend that started in the US and has spread to other countries, including Canada, Australia and France.
'Idiot in a mask'
Andrew Davis, from Suffolk - otherwise known as Andy the Clown - said these type of incidents often happened around Halloween time.
Mr Davis, of the World Clown Association, said: "A genuine clown would not run up to somebody and make them jump and frighten them.
"That is an idiot dressed up in a mask trying to scare people.
"It makes me feel disappointed that the easiest way they can get a cheap thrill is to scare somebody."
But despite his anger, Andy said business was still good - and he is booked up until Christmas.
Why are we scared of clowns?
The fear of clowns, also known as Coulrophobia, is said to be one of the leading phobias in the UK.
Professor Mark Griffiths, a chartered psychologist at Nottingham Trent University, says clowns tend to be scary because of their exaggerated looks and evil representation in films.
"The vast majority of people are not scared of clowns day-to-day but a clown's face has become part of a scare culture.
"There is a stereotype of the nasty, evil, eerie clown. If you look at clowns facially what you tend to find is part of their face or feet are exaggerated, they have huge noses, scary mouths and wildfire hair.
"We also have a cinematic trope. If you look at everything from Heath Ledger in Batman to Stephen King's It, we've got these characters with clown faces that are either killing people or doing really nasty things.
Even if you have not come into contact with clowns, you're influenced by what you see in television and films."
Pat the Clown, based in Birmingham, said the craze - which he believes is inspired by American films - could actually hit the clown industry.
"It's quite disgusting. It's potentially going to have an adverse effect on us if it persists," he said.
"I have been trying to play down the more negative aspects of clowns as somebody to be frightened of, for the last 25 years.
"Clowns are something that should be enjoyed by people, not feared."
Horror writer Stephen King, who created one of horror's iconic "evil" clowns - Pennywise from his novel, It, is among those who have said the craze has gone too far.
He tweeted: "Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria--most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh."
Nottingham-based clown Jolly Jingles is also feeling unhappy about the trend.
"I have been a clown for 16 years and I would not want to go around scaring people," he said.
"It makes me very sad because I like making people happy.
"People have asked me if I would go to their Halloween event and scare people - I always say no."
A number of police forces across the country have been called out to deal with "creepy clowns".
Ch Con Mike Barton, of the National Police Chiefs Council, said: "Police forces have been dealing with some instances of people who are dressing up as clowns in order to frighten others.
"While some might view this as funny, the act of frightening or threatening others may be enough to warrant public order criminal offences."
People with concerns are advised to call police on 101.