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The crime with a celebrity sub-genre: 'Swatting' joins the prank ranks


In the wee hours of 10 October, an emergency call reached the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, claiming shots had been fired at a gated mansion in the wealthy Casablasas neighbourhood.

The gunman, said the anonymous caller, was threatening the neighbours. Armed cops converged on the house, only to find it empty. Its owner, teen megastar Justin Bieber, was away on tour. On Tuesday, the LAPD announced it had arrested a juvenile suspect on suspicion of “swatting”. The boy, who has not been named, is thought to be responsible for the Bieber hoax call, and for playing the same prank on Ashton Kutcher.

“Swatting”, so-called for the police SWAT teams it aims to attract, has been around for at least 10 years, but the crime’s celebrity sub-genre is relatively new. Among the other victims are Miley Cyrus and Simon Cowell; in November, a caller alleged a hostage was tied up in the X Factor judge’s Beverly Hills pad. Cowell was at home when the police arrived. There was no trace of the fictional victim. LA police are, to put it mildly, unamused by  the trend.