It may have seemed like a “hilarious” idea at the time, but the actions of four YouTube pranksters during a 2015 video shoot involving unwitting members of the public has just landed them with prison terms.
The group, whose Trollstation YouTube channel has attracted more than 700,000 subscribers in nearly three years, specializes in “bizarre and often surreal pranks,” according to the channel’s description.
However, fake robberies carried out inside two art galleries in London was a step too far, a court decided on Monday. In one of the staged raids, three members of the group – Daniel Jarvis, 27, Ebenezer Mensah, 29, and Helder Gomes, 23 – burst into a gallery with their faces covered, shouting, “Let’s get the paintings,” the Guardian said. They’d taken with them a collection of artworks, which they then pretended to steal.
The fourth member, Endrit Ferizolli, 20, played alarm sounds through a speaker system, while Danh Van Le, 31, videoed panicking visitors as they tried to flee the scene. The court heard how members of the public caused a stampede as they tried to get away from the “robbers.” One woman fell unconscious in the chaos, while another told the court in a witness statement that she was “absolutely terrified,” BuzzFeed reported.
Members of Trollstation pleaded guilty to two counts of using threatening words or behaviour contrary to section 4 of the Public Order Act during the fake raids, which took place at London’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain on 5 July, 2015. The attacks came just days after terrorists killed 30 British tourists at a resort in Tunisia, action that put security services in the U.K. capital on high alert.
Jarvis, Mensah, Gomes, and Ferizolli were each jailed for between 16 and 20 weeks. Van Le – Trollstation’s founder – is already serving a 24-week prison term for a bomb hoax filmed for another of their YouTube videos.
Defending Jarvis, Maya Chopra insisted there had been “a lack of malicious intent,” adding, “It was poorly thought out, it was meant to be a joke, it didn’t go as planned.”
The team admits its content is “intentionally provocative and controversial with the aim to get reactions from the general public in the name of comedic satire.” This particular prank also got a reaction from the authorities, and for the courts it proved to be no laughing matter.