AN ALLOA man has been formally acquitted of chasing children around Greenfield Park with a snake last year.
Paul Mason had been accused of frightening the youngsters during a bizarre incident on October 22.
The 46-year-old was alleged to have set off fireworks close to trees in the park before leaving to buy more pyrotechnics and returning with the corn snake.
However, a sheriff has ruled that he was mentally insane at the time of the incident and, as such, will face no criminal prosecution.
Mason was previously ruled unfit to stand trial and a special hearing – an examination of facts – was heard at Alloa Sheriff Court today.
The proceedings do not call before a jury and the court has no power to convict the accused.
However, the sheriff can make a ruling to address the mental health needs of the person in the dock.
During Mason's hearing, teenage witnesses said they ran screaming from him as he chased them with the reptile, while younger children – whom he invited to touch the snake – remained rooted to the spot.
One girl told of how she had gone to the park on the Saturday afternoon with two friends to play.
The 10-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, stated that she saw Mason trying to scare some teenage girls with the snake.
She said: "He was holding it and shaking it around."
Her friend, also 10, added: "He started chasing me and my friends and speedwalking with it towards some 13 and 15-year-old girls.
"He put the snake on the ground and said it was fake, but it started moving.
"Me and my friend screamed and ran.
"I told my dad what had happened and my friend's mum called the police."
She said she had also been scared by the fireworks that Mason had set off.
Housewife Leanne Gardner, who had been walking her dog, said she had shouted to Mason to stop setting off the fireworks.
The 49-year-old added: "The children could have been in danger, because they were very loud fireworks, and my dog was upset."
She said she later saw "teenagers running and screaming" with Mason chasing them.
After the evidence was led, Sheriff Derek Reekie found Mason had acted disorderly but, in accordance with the provisions of the law, formerly acquitted him of a charge of breach of the peace on the grounds of insanity.
The sheriff said: "Possession of a snake in a public park, in the middle of the day, is likely to cause genuine and alarm and disturbance, certainly to young children, and to many reasonable adults."
He added: "The children gave their evidence clearly, and I was entirely satisfied as to their credibility and reliability."
The case was continued until May 9 for consideration of reports from two psychiatrists and a mental health officer.
This will advise the court on how best to address Mason's treatment needs, if deemed necessary.
In the meantime, Mason has been released on bail with the condition he has no contact with any child under 16.