How years of 'gimp man' sightings terrified Somerset villages
A BBC report of a man in latex-like clothing terrifying a woman on a dark country lane in Claverham, North Somerset, first grabbed headlines in July 2019, but while some made jokes on social media, women in nearby villages were so frightened, they began changing their night-time habits. Plans were made to leave pubs and restaurants in groups, or for husbands, fathers and boyfriends to walk people home.
Last week, a man was sentenced for similar offences 12 miles (19km) away. We visited Claverham, Cleeve and Yatton in North Somerset, where some women say they are still afraid to go out alone after dark.
Warning: Themes of a sexual nature discussed below.
"As soon as it gets dark I still feel more uncomfortable, even just walking to the car... or walking back late at night on my own, even from the pub in the village hall.
"Within my peer group it is often talked about, particularly if we are planning to go out for a social or a drink somewhere local.
"We discuss how we're going to get home and what route we're going to take… so we're all together."
This woman, who does not want to be named, lives in Claverham, which lies between the villages of Yatton and Cleeve.
She said although it can "sound funny" to some, "when it's actually been happening close by to you, and there's been quite a real chance that you might bump into this person, then it is always on your mind, especially at night".
Reported sightings of a person wearing a "gimp suit" - a full, dark bodysuit and face covering - were reported in Claverham and Yatton in 2019, 2021 and 2022.
'I felt frightened'
Another woman, who managed to take a photograph of the man during one of the incidents, said she saw his face every time she closed her eyes.
She said she had been prescribed medication for the anxiety she experienced as a result of seeing him.
One of the women we spoke to in Claverham said her biggest concern was whether there could be an escalation in behaviour.
"From the early reports, I felt frightened and I was worried about it," she said.
"As a woman, you're used to knowing no woman really walks around here at night [alone] if they can help it," she added.
Various sightings were investigated by police but insufficient evidence meant no case was brought to court.
A call to police on 7 May this year reported a man in dark clothing and a mask had been seen in front of cars and rolling on the ground in Bleadon, near Weston-super-Mare.
Although no-one was found, police responded to another call, also in Bleadon, shortly after midnight on 9 May and found a man called Joshua Hunt, 32, at the scene in a white Berlingo van.
Hunt was fined £100 and ordered to pay £200 compensation to each of his victims and £620 prosecution costs
Home-made outfits of black clothing, women's tights, face masks with neon white paint drawn on and gloves were found in Hunt's van. He was arrested and charged for the Bleadon offences.
Hunt was found guilty of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress at Bristol Magistrates' Court on 27 October.
He was fined £100 and ordered to pay £200 compensation to each of his victims and £620 prosecution costs.
The court heard Hunt made online searches about the "Somerset Gimp" and the "Gimp of Cleeve" in 2022 and 2023.
He maintained he was not the "gimp man" seen in Cleeve, Yatton and Claverham - where his family home is - but admitted to the offences in Bleadon.
Avon and Somerset Police confirmed there was insufficient evidence to link Hunt to the previous sightings.
Freedom of Information
A Freedom of Information request made by the BBC showed calls to police describing a man in dark clothing and a mask had been reported for more than five years in the villages of Yatton, Claverham and Cleeve.
Below is a timeline made of calls and sightings from 2018:
23 November 2018 - 18 June 2019, Yatton
There are seven police call log entries from people in Yatton reporting a man in a "gimp suit" in different locations in the village.
In November 2018, a caller describes a man wearing "a full gimp suit with a red mask", with other call logs noting a man wearing a "gimp mask made of gaffa tape" or "a full black head gimp mask".
By January 2019, the man is described as wearing "a latex suit and with no eye holes… rolling around in animal excrement near field gates [and] often masturbating".
This is consistent with a number of other reports to police, which mention the man touching himself while dressed in the outfit.
Calls were logged under 'sexual offences' or 'suspicious' type offences.
11 July 2019, Claverham
A photo is taken by a woman who was "terrified" as she suddenly became aware of a man in a bodysuit as he stood in front of her late at night in Chapel Lane, Claverham.
July 2019, Claverham area
Two men, aged 28 and 34 at the time, are arrested on suspicion of indecency offences and released in November that year due to insufficient evidence.
7 August 2019 - 1 September 2021, Yatton, Claverham and nearby village Congresbury
Nine calls are logged with mentions of "the gimp" under a variety of incidents.
1 September 2021, Claverham
A masked man is reported to police. A couple claim they saw him spying on them in their home in Claverham at 00:15 BST. Police search the area but are unable to locate the man.
19 September 2021 - 6 November 2022, Claverham and Yatton
A further four calls making mention of "the gimp" are logged under a number of alleged incidents.
26 June 2022, Yatton
A 19-year-old and her boyfriend report seeing a "masked man in a latex suit coming toward them" in Yatton at night. Police say officers searched the area but found "no trace" of the man.
25 October 2022, Cleeve
Two teenagers report seeing a man in a bodysuit "writhing and grunting" on the floor while they tried to talk to him. One teenager describes the man as smelling "earthy", and says he was visibly covered in mud.
26 October 2022, Cleeve
A man is arrested on suspicion of causing a public nuisance and released on bail. Charges are dropped due to insufficient evidence.
7 May 2023, Bleadon
Reports are made to police of a man wearing dark clothing and a mask. The mask is described as dark and very tight, with white crosses where the eyes should be.
9 May 2023, Bleadon
Shortly after midnight, a woman reports feeling "sheer horror" on seeing a figure in a black outfit and mask. Police stop a white Berlingo van reversing in a field and find Hunt with home-made outfits. Hunt is arrested.
One man said he was in his 20s when he saw a "gimp man" sometime around 2018.
He said he parked his car in Yatton at around 02:00 and "realised someone was watching me" as he pulled a seat forward to get something from the back.
"He was stood on the other side of the open front door, about 1.5m (4.9 ft) away, looking in.
"He was wearing a latex black suit and mask with red crosses over the eyes, no shoes, his suit went all the way down.
"[And] as he was looking in, we looked at each other for a moment," the man said.
A man said they saw someone covered in mud and "writhing" on the floor
"I'm not an aggressive person but I had a fight or flight moment and walked towards him and he sprinted off…. I gave chase for maybe 10m. He was pretty quick," he added.
He said the incident was scary, but the worst thing was thinking if the same thing had happened to his mother.
"She'd have literally had a heart attack," he said.
Moving forward, he said he hoped the man would get the support he needed.
Det Insp Dan Rowan of Avon and Somerset Police said previous reports of a similar nature in different locations meant officers were "keenly aware of the potential impact on the public" and worked "extremely rapidly" in response to the Bleadon reports, resulting in Hunt's arrest.
He said: "Investigations like this will naturally affect people in different ways and it's very understandable that in this case, with the circumstances, people will have been extremely afraid of what they've seen."
He said officers had taken all reports "extremely seriously" and focussed on the offender and "the behaviours they display as well as seeing things through the lens of the victims who have been most profoundly affected".
Following Hunt's conviction for the Bleadon offences, he is subject to a five-year sexual harm risk order which limits his behaviours, types of clothing he can wear and locations he can be in.
Det Insp Dan Rowan in front of an Avon and Somerset Police sign
Det Insp Dan Rowan said it was understandable the sightings had scared people
Imposing the order at Bristol Magistrates' Court on Friday, District Judge Joanna Peepeeens said she was "satisfied there was a sexual element" to Hunt's actions.
"I only make an order if I think it is necessary to protect the public from you and I do think it is necessary," she added.
Ch Insp Jonny Murray said "nobody should ever have to experience fear" like Hunt's victims did.
"We hope this sexual risk order will help protect the public from harm and distress, and prevent further such incidents happening again," he added.