What the hell is going on with all these creepy clown sightings?

You might have heard of the bizarre phenomenon that's going on right now with numerous sightings of clowns across the UK.

Some say dressing up as a clown and roaming the streets is just a harmless prank, whereas others argue it's extremely intimidating and dangerous, especially when some clowns have been carrying knives.

We delve into what's being going on and where the heck this creepy craze started from.

Where have clowns been spotted?

Across several states in the US and in an increasing number of places in the UK, including Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle, London and Plymouth. They've been spotted wandering along high streets, lurking in parks and standing outside people's homes late at night.

Numerous social media accounts have been set up for people to share and freak out over images and videos of the sightings (if they're brave enough to hang around and take them). The circumstances range from the completely random - like spotting one cruising along on a mobility scooter in the middle of the day - to the seriously worrying.

One recent incident in County Durham involved a masked clown, who was carrying a knife, jumping out at a group of children and following them on their way to school. Another in Essex involved two people dressed as clowns approaching two girls on their way to school and asking them if they wanted to attend a birthday party.

What have the police said?

Police in the UK and America are aware of the large scale of the craze and have been issuing warnings to those taking part to stop and think of the harm they might be doing to others.

Northumbria police put out an appeal earlier in the week after a 13-year-old boy was arrested for carrying a knife and attempting to scare passers-by in Blakelaw.

While dressing up in itself isn't illegal, getting involved in the prank might be.

Acting Chief Inspector for Essex Police Darren Deex said: "We would also like to warn people who are thinking of being actively involved in this craze that in doing so they may commit offences under the Public Order Act 1986 and to be more considerate of the feelings of others, especially young children and the elderly."

Why clowns?

a scary clown in a wood (Thinkstock)

Because clowns are pretty damn scary. Having a fear of them - which, at its worst, is known as coulrophobia - is something many children and adults share.

Although they're intended to be fun and happy and entertaining, that painted grin and eccentric disguise can also appear much more sinister and, to be honest, just plain odd.

It also doesn't help that many clowns feature in horror stories and films, often luring their victims in under a false sense of security.

Where has this craze come from?

It seems to have started in America where the reported incidents are of varying severity, like here. There also seems to have been a particular focus by the pranksters on US colleges.

But students at Pennsylvania State University decided they'd had enough the other night and went on a mass 'clown hunt' to scare any opportunistic clowns away.

Does it have anything to do with Halloween?

It's difficult to know for sure, since some reports of incidents in America date back as early as August.

But it does seem like a huge coincidence that people would decide to start scaring people just a few weeks before the scariest night of the year.

*Locks door and never leaves*

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