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Throwing the SPOOK at you – what can and can’t you do at Hallowe’en?

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 29 October 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
  3. 0 comments
Hallowe'en pumpkin

After a long, spooky week of Hallowe’en-themed legal blogposts, the big day is finally almost upon us. There aren’t many legal restrictions on what you might be doing on Hallowe’en, but this post should answer any legal(ish) questions you might have.

Can a shop refuse to sell eggs and flour to kids?

It’s not uncommon for supermarkets and shopkeepers to refuse to sell eggs and flour to children around Hallowe’en, due to these products’ effectiveness in soiling houses in the name of a prank. Some communities and police forces have launched initiatives to encourage local shops to follow suit.

However, you may wonder how shopkeepers can refuse to sell anything that isn’t age-restricted by law (such as alcohol or tobacco).

In fact, shopkeepers are well within their rights to refuse to sell you anything, regardless of your age and what the product is. This is due to what is known as invitation to treat.

Invitation to treat is essentially what the shopkeeper makes when she displays eggs, flour, or anything in the shop. When you buy something, you essentially enter into an unwritten contract with the shopkeeper – however, the offer for this contract is not made until you take the product(s) up to the counter.

As a result, the shopkeeper can refuse to sell eggs and flour to anyone at any time, if they choose. If you had planned to make a nice Hallowe’en themed cake with your children, you may have to go down to the shop yourself.

Also, I’m not one to encourage pranks, but if your son or daughter is particularly set on throwing something at a house, I would encourage them to go with something that isn’t going to leave a mark, such as (clean) toilet paper.

Can trick-or-treating be considered harassment?

Trick-or-treating is a well-established tradition, but the thought of having strangers knocking on the door can be a distressing one, particularly for the elderly or vulnerable.

However, children are highly unlikely to be picked up by police for harassing anyone, unless they are deliberately pestering or antagonising them.

In order to avoid raising the ire of your neighbours or the police, children should look out for any indication that residents wish to be left alone – a “No Trick-or-Treaters Please” sign is a pretty big giveaway.

If you are at home and feel like you are being harassed, you should call the police – harassment is harassment, regardless of what night of the year it is.

In the words of Surrey Police Superintendent Laurence Taylor: “As always, we will remain vigilant and will not tolerate unacceptable behaviour that causes unnecessary distress to others.”

Is there an age limit on trick-or-treating?

No, there isn’t, although there is also no law against people giving you funny looks or refusing to give you any sweets. If you are starting to reach your mid-to-late teens (or beyond), I suggest recruiting a younger sibling/nephew/niece to legitimise your efforts.

Funnily enough, there are some cities in the USA which have age restrictions on trick-or-treaters – Meridian, MS, Bishopville, SC and Belleville, St Louis are three cities which have a ban on anyone trick-or-treating past the age of 12.

The mayor of Belleville went a step further, stipulating that those young enough could only trick-or-treat between 5pm and 8:30pm on Hallowe’en, and that anyone older was forbidden from wearing a mask.

In practice however, these bans rarely, if ever, result in arrests, with police preferring to caution or send home any inappropriately-aged trick-or-treaters.

What happens if someone gives my children poisoned sweets?

Remember the cautionary tale of this Manchester man, who inadvertently handed out bags of cocaine to young trick-or-treaters.

In all seriousness, we often hear horror stories about children being given “poisoned candy” or other things that could harm them. Thankfully, these are almost always untrue, unfortunate cocaine mishaps aside. While it’s still a good idea to err on the side of caution and check your children’s sweets, you can rest assured that it is highly unlikely that anything will happen.

Stay safe and have a Happy Hallowe’en!

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