THE headteacher of a secondary school where a clown was spotted outside said the safety of students is the “first priority”.

Gazette readers reported seeing a clown jumping out of the bushes near Bishop Challoner Catholic School, in St Michael’s Road, South Ham, on Monday.

John Wright, headteacher at the school, confirmed that the clown was spotted in the car park next to St Joseph’s Church on Monday morning.

He added: “The police were informed. The clown left and when the PCSOs arrived he had disappeared. Staff were on duty at all times.

“The safeguarding of our students is our first priority. At no time was this person on the school premises.”

As reported in The Gazette, the clown craze, which started in America, has seen people terrorising neighbourhoods dressed as clowns.

Staff at a fancy dress shop in Basingstoke said they had seen an increase in the number of clown masks bought recently.

A member of staff from Party Workshops, in Hackwood Road, said there had been a noticeable rise in sales of clown fancy dress items.

Gazette readers have expressed their concern about the craze on social media.

Zoe Hicks said: “My kids are literally terrified because of this. My son has had restless nights and my eldest daughter is now scared of her own shadow and won’t leave the house. She normally has to get the bus to school but refuses now and her dad takes her because she is so petrified. It’s beyond a joke now.”

Louise Powell added: “This clown business has gone way too far, in no way is it funny scaring children, elderly or any type of human being.”

The clown-related incidents have prompted police to warn people that they could be arrested if they take part in the craze.

Superintendent Paul Bartolomeo said: “We don’t want to be killjoys but some of these incidents have been extremely frightening for those involved.

“We would ask people to think about the impact of their actions. Also, by taking part in this craze, people could find themselves in a situation which leads to a public order incident. They could be arrested and end up with a criminal record.”

“These incidents are also taking up valuable police time and resources, and will ultimately have an impact on other calls coming into the control room and officers attending other incidents.

“This appears to be a national craze at the moment and we would strongly advise people in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight not to be part of it.”

Anyone with information or concerns should contact police on 101.