The story was so classically tabloid that the Sun might have made it up, although the farce did have serious consequences for actual people.
Last October at a family farm cum B&B in the Lake District, John Powell and his fiancée Lucy Walton were sick of young people partying in an adjacent lay-by. Picking up the resultant litter on their property was a perpetual headache. Kids driving across their fields had crushed crops, and one off-road spree had startled their valuable thoroughbred, which careened into a fence. Mr Powell told the Daily Mail, "We've phoned the police countless times to get them to help us, but we've had no support."
So when yet another carful of youngsters parked beside their farmland, our intrepid twenty-somethings took matters into their own hands, larkishly concocting a plan, the macabre goofiness of which must have been influenced by Halloween's proximity. Ms Walton spurted her top with ketchup and ran up to the car, with Mr Powell in hot pursuit wielding an axe. She tapped the car window in mock terror, crying, "Let me in, let me in!" — although Ms Walton claims she was laughing. Spooked, much like the couple's thoroughbred, the teenagers did not, unfortunately for the smallholders, run into a fence, but drove to the police.
Who might have placed a simple phone call: "Hey, that was dumb, don't do it again." Instead, Ms Walton received a formal caution. Mr Powell was charged with possessing an axe in a public place (a crime I committed just last week, retrieving the dread implement from a hardware store to split kindling) and behaving in a way "likely to cause harassment, alarm, or distress". In February, the case went to court.
One detail is in dispute. The tragically traumatised teenagers claim that not only Ms Walton but Mr Powell tapped on their car window — with his axe. Mr Powell denies this, asserting that he only carried the axe over his shoulder, observing that had he knocked on glass with a four-foot axe he'd have broken the window. Either way? No one was hurt. No property was damaged. It was a joke.
British jurisprudence is notoriously humourless. Recall that last year's exasperated airline passenger Tweeting to a girlfriend about "blowing the airport sky high" unless a delayed flight took off resulted in a conviction for sending "menacing" messages. But po-facedness is the least of the problem.