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27th Oct 2023

‘Somerset gimp’ finally unmasked after being found guilty

Steve Hopkins

‘I didn’t intend to scare anybody. I am crying out for help’

A man exposed as the ‘Somerset Gimp’ has been found guilty of two public order offences – after he terrorised people in a pitch-black rural country lane last year.

Joshua Hunt, who wore a latex black ‘gimp suit’ and terrified female motorists, was found guilty of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress at Bristol Magistrates Court on Friday.

The court heard on two separate occasions the 32-year-old was seen wearing the outfit and a mask made out of tights he’d purchased from Asda on the same day with eyes and a mouth he had drawn on with UV paint.

The incidents in Accommodation Road, Bleadon, near Weston-super-Mare, Somerset late on 7 May and in the early hours of 9 May last year left on-lookers terrified, the trial was told.

Hunt accepted he was the ‘gimp’ who was spotted but denied any intent to cause alarm or distress.

But after a one-day trial, he was found guilty and sentenced by a district judge who said she did not believe his excuses on how he was caught wearing the outfit.

During the first incident, a woman was driving along the lane with her husband and two children in the car when she spotted a black figure – which looked like a person – crawling on the ground. In disbelief, the pair discussed what they had seen and convinced each other that it was likely to be a bin bag.

They chose not to call the police but instead report it online.

The woman was left “unnerved” and “does not want to travel around the lanes anymore”, Bristol Magistrates’ Court heard.

Just over 24 hours later, a woman was driving along the road with her sister-in-law and a teenage boy and as she turned a corner she came face-to-face with a person dressed in all black with a face covering. As her sister-in-law looked up from her phone, she screamed in horror.

The driver sped up to pass, and the figure jumped to the side of the road. The teenage boy described the woman’s reaction as “like a scream from a horror movie”.

“I always take this route to work, but I won’t be taking this route in the dark anymore as it does not feel safe”, she said in a witness statement.

Within five minutes, the police were contacted and sent a unit to the scene.

PC Declan Coppock, and his colleague PC Pickles, were the first officers to arrive – and spotted a white Citroen Berlingo van reversing out of lay-by.

Suspicious, he stopped behind the vehicle and got out to speak to the driver, who identified himself as Hunt.

At the time, Hunt was wearing grey jogging bottoms and a blue hoodie.

Suspecting his involvement in the incident police arrested Hunt on suspicion of causing a public nuisance.

In response, he said: “I’m not a gimp, I don’t own a gimp suit”.

When the officers searched Hunt, he told them: “You can take the cuffs off, I’m a normal person. I have a few problems, I need some help basically.”

In a police interview, Hunt provided a prepared statement – stating that his “mental health has deteriorated rapidly, and I am in crisis.”

He added: “I was attempting to kill myself, I didn’t intend to scare anybody. I am crying out for help.”

The court heard that during a search of Hunt’s home in Claverham, police found a handwritten story about a man named Jack – who dressed up in black with a face mask and ‘looked like something out of a horror film’.

Hunt admitted he wrote the story, but claims he was not acting it out.

Examination of his mobile phone also uncovered various searches and bookmarks relating to the Somerset Gimp – searches made in the previous year. A screenshot of a video about “The Gimp Man” on YouTube was also found.

Giving evidence Friday, Hunt accepted it was him and apologised to the victims but denied he’d dressed as a gimp or intentionally caused them harassment, alarm or distress.

Hunt claimed that he was wearing the outfit to go mudding, which he described as the act of covering himself in mud because he hated his body.

“It’s a simple thing: I feel like shit, I cover myself in shit”, he said.

“I was going to [go mudding]; I had wandered down to the estuary, I paced up and down, but as time went on, my mental state rapidly went downhill.

“I walked down there, I was going to, then I walked back and decided to place myself in the road in front of people because I wanted to get hit over by a car to end it all really, because I was so low.

“I apologise greatly to these people – I agree, what they saw would have frightened them.

“Hand to my heart, I never intended to cause those people harm or distress.

“I decided to put a smile on my face, two dots on my eyes and a smile. I wanted to die with a smile.”

District Judge Joanna Dickens said that the issue in this case was whether or not Hunt caused intentional harassment, alarm and distress.

“In fairness to you, you have always accepted they were caused harassment, alarm or distress, and you’ve apologised for that”, she said.

She added: “Everyone accepts and it has been proved, you were unwell and were suffering from a serious depressive episode.

“You were seen on a very quiet lane in the Bleadon area, and that you were – on both occasions – highly visible to both [victims], wearing quite a bizarre get-up.” Judge Dickens added that “it makes no sense at all”.

She continued: “I do not believe your evidence as to why you were wearing the bizarre costume.

“I think there was an intention to cause fear, alarm anxious and distress to others, and that’s what happened on those occasions.”

Judge Dickens found Hunt guilty of two offences of Section 4A Public Order Act offences.

Accepting that he had spent one month in prison on remand for his crimes earlier this year, she imposed a £100 fine and told Hunt to pay £200 compensation to each of his three victims.