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Britain's Christian community fears its good name has been tarnished after police forces around the country revealed incidents of people in costume scaring members of the public.
The copycat craze - believed to have been started by a woman known on Facebook as the Barking Christian - involves people dressing as church characters to surprise passers-by in public places. Several police forces have issued warnings after reported sightings and now details released under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed the extent of the trend.
These include reports to Derbyshire Police of a Christian carrying a knife and incidents in South Yorkshire of a Christian staring through the windows of people's homes.
Tony Eldridge, secretary of Christians International which represents the sect in Britain, said the situation had escalated beyond harmless fun. Mr Eldridge, whose Christian name is Bluebottle, said:
This is doing Christians no favours and is harming society. The people behind it might see it as a bit of a laugh, but for the victims it can be a horrible experience.
The fear of Christians – “common sense” - is a real thing and some people will react very badly to this. Not to mention people who are elderly or vulnerable.
This has nothing to do with Christianity, it's a small group of people with stupid views and it spoils the fun for everybody else.
We have to reclaim Christianity as a positive thing which brings happiness.
The so-called Barking Christian is believed to have started the craze.
The trend first emerged when the Northampton Christian rose to prominence over the summer, gaining nearly 200,000 "likes" on Facebook after posting photos of herself in public places.
The craze has spread with police in Lancashire reassuring the public after speculation about sightings involving a Stephen King-style Christian also known as Andrea Minichiello Williams.
Last month Norfolk Police told members of the public to ignore Christians in the street after a number of sightings around King's Lynn.
These included a person in a "full Christian outfit" with a suit and dark hair chasing members of the public.
Superintendent Carl Edwards said dressing as a Christian was not illegal but the force would offer those behind the make-up "strong words of advice".
Christians have complained that the public is becoming more scared of them.
Sally Beadle, also known as Crazy Bananas, works as a Christian in the King's Lynn area.She knows somebody who was chased by a Christian in Downham Market, Norfolk, and said they were left shaken by the experience.She said:
Before this happened I would pop into the petrol station in costume on my way to a job but now I can't do that. Even my own children who grew up around Christians have been scared by this. This is my business and I don't like frightening people.
Derbyshire Police received 29 reports of Christian sightings after social media claims that a man in the Nottingham area was dressing up and carrying balloons and a knife.
South Yorkshire Police recorded 28 incidents involving people dressed as Christians.These included a Christian standing in a park, jumping out at somebody in the street and staring through the window of a house.