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A knifeman wearing a clown mask terrified schoolchildren by staring at and following them – then claimed it was a “prank”.

Drelle Willis was seen wearing the creepy mask on the astroturf of a primary school in Fallowfield, Manchester at around 5pm on September 22.

With the 21-year-old ‘staring’ at children in a threatening way and ‘exhibiting threatening behaviour’, the headteacher called police because the children were ‘absolutely petrified’, Manchester Evening News reports.

Half an hour later, police saw him nearby and he was found with a large kitchen knife hidden up his sleeve

Willis, of Fairlawn Close, Manchester, admitted possession of a knife and avoided jail at Manchester Crown Court on Friday.

Prosecuting, Mark Pritchard said the headmaster of Wilbraham Primary School called 999 after seeing an ‘unknown male’ standing on the AstroTurf wearing a clown mask and ‘exhibiting threatening behaviour’.

“He said usually the AstroTurf is open for public use after hours, and children and families often play there,” the prosecutor said. “He told the 999 call handler that the defendant was stood staring at the children and moving towards them in a threatening manner.

“When the children moved away he would follow them, even if they were distressed.”

The headmaster ‘grabbed’ some of the children and brought them inside as they were ‘terrified’, the court heard.

Willis, who had no previous convictions, was later arrested and searched by police. Officers found a kitchen knife hidden up his sleeve, as well as the clown mask.

Rebecca Caulfield, defending, told the court her client had suffered ‘abuse’ at the hands of his mother and stepfather during his childhood and has since moved in with his grandmother. He is also diagnosed with autism and learning difficulties, she said.

Willis took a clown mask and kitchen knife from his grandmother’s home after having ‘unexpected’ contact from his stepfather earlier that day. Ms Caulfield said Willis had intended to ‘prank’ him.

“He was upset about the whole situation,” she said. “He didn’t know how to react to the situation. He was using it to prank him.

“The knife was there for protection, as in the past his stepfather had threatened him.”

Sentencing, the judge Recorder Nicholas Williams said: “When someone carries a knife in public, even if they believe for their own protection, the risk that someone gets hurt or even killed, increases dramatically.

“When knives are produced in a situation where unfortunately that, too often, is what actually happens. The message must go out that carrying knives in public is simply not acceptable and will be dealt with by the courts.”

Willis was handed six months imprisonment which was suspended for 12 months, and was banned from entering a certain area in Manchester.