Trick or treat: Is your doorstep fair game for zombies at Halloween?

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 30 October 2019 16:52 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Children wait at a doorway as they go "trick-or-treating" on the annual Halloween holiday in the New York City suburb of Nyack, New York, October 31, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES)

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While teens think practical jokes are just a laugh, they can have a serious impact on the aged and those in poor health

(Adds detail on law in par 7 and 8)

By Amber Milne

LONDON, Oct 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Small children dressed as fairies on your doorstep may be cute while teenagers in zombie masks can be less appealing, but what rights do you have to say who knocks on your door at Halloween?

A growing number of Britons who dread the spooky holiday - when packs of youngsters dressed as witches, skeletons and ghosts ask their neighbours for sweets with the phrase 'trick or treat' - are looking for ways to deter ghoulish callers.

"Halloween can be a very scary time of the year," said Anne, an elderly woman in the western county of Shropshire who declined to publish her full name.

"I walk with a frame, so if I do have trick-or-treaters I wouldn't be able to get to the door in time anyway. So I just hope that they don't play any tricks on me."

Tips for those who feel threatened by unknown callers include disabling your doorbell, going out for the evening, or leaving treats in a bowl by the door, while the police recommend displaying "no trick-or-treat" posters.

"People have the right to privacy," a Cumbria Police spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Police said posters were only a deterrent with no legal force but urged children to respect residents' wishes. Although people legally own their doorsteps, knocking on doors is not trespassing, a Leicestershire Police spokeswoman said.

"Unless there's a restraining order against a named person going to your address, or an injunction preventing a named person coming within a certain distance of you or your property, you can't stop people coming to your door," she said.

While teens think practical jokes are just a laugh, they can have a serious impact on the aged and those in poor health and be a nuisance in homes with a sleeping baby or shift worker.

An elderly man with Alzheimer's was brought to tears after confusing Halloween visitors with real ghosts, Radfield Home Care, which provides elderly people with support at home, said on its website, which offers Halloween safety tips.

"Halloween can be a very worrying time for people who have previously experienced anti-social behaviour or criminal damage from callers," said Gary Fenton, creator of Online Watch Link (OWL), which allows people to share security updates.

Almost 400,000 homes are registered with OWL, which is used by the public, police and councils across Britain to share local crime alerts.

The police are trying to outwit high-spirited youngsters by asking local businesses to restrict the sale of eggs and flour to under 16s who might pelt them at homes or cars.

"If you're found in possession of flour, eggs or other items where a breach of peace is likely to occur you could be arrested," reads a poster produced by police in the eastern county of Cambridgeshire for local shopowners.

The U.S. city of Chesapeake in Virginia caused a storm last year when it was revealed that children over the age of 12 could be jailed for trick-or-treating under a law introduced in 1968 after a bout of Halloween violence in a neighbouring city.

The penalty has since been reduced to a $250 fine for troublemakers over the age of 14.

"This law had never been enforced; it only existed to give police an option should things get out of hand on Halloween," Heath Covey, a spokesman for the city, said in emailed comments.

"We'd like to assure everyone that, in fact, we do NOT arrest teens for trick-or-treating and never have." (Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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