Here's the third winner of our Mighty Pens/Herald short story contest. It's by Nick Scobie, a 60-year-old retired solicitor from Bishopbriggs. He says he wanted to write a short story about the effectiveness of non-violent, peaceful protest. "I usually write poetry but have recently branched out in to short stories as well. The little girl in the story came to mind after watching a documentary about a children's hospital ward." He says his normal reading is crime stories with Scottish crime noir being his favourite. "I rate Chris Brookmyre as my favourite author," he adds.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS, BY NICK SCOBIE

Chief Inspector Aitken vowed as he left Ashfield Square that the next time he confronted one of Joe Smith's rallies he would “ crush him”. The police had been heavily criticised on all the news channels for failing to keep order. He wanted revenge. At the Anti- Poverty Rally organised by community activist Joe, black-clad anarchists had suddenly appeared and sparked a mini-riot.

Joe Smith had secured a job as a hospital porter in Chloe's Hospital in addition to his usual job as a joiner so that he could spend extra time with Chloe. She was 11 years of age but had leukeumia. He knew and she knew that she was very ill. He had discovered that Chloe was able to analyse everyday political events. He felt he benefited from her views. She was confrontational and feisty – just like her mother.

“Daddy – why can't people protest peacefully ?" asked Chloe as Joe sat beside her on a visitor`s chair one night. “Why can't you take the clowns with you when you want to say what you think is wrong? People listen to clowns." Joe left the hospital ward and thought about what Chloe had said. He and his friends often dressed up as clowns to raise funds for Chloe's ward.

Joe thought long and hard about what Chloe had said. He had an idea…..

“My Daddy is a clown “ said Chloe to the ward sister – Sarah Burt – a few days later. “And he is going to help the working class. No-one is better than anyone else. And my Daddy is a clown who is going to do something about it." Sister Burt sighed inwardly and thought to herself: “What is this child talking about ?"

On Saturday 30 November 2002 history was made. 200 police officers sat in expectation of a “ ruck” at Ashfield Square. Joe Smith had organised an Anti-Poverty Rally and thousands were expected to attend. A helicopter buzzed overhead, while the police support units were on standby. Chief Inspector Aitken could barely conceal his excitement. That toe rag Joe Smith was going to get his just desserts.

Chief Inspector Aitken radioed over to his “spotter “ in plain clothes around 12 noon on the Saturday. The rally was due to start at 2pm. In Ashfield Square there were very few people about but the spotter Sergeant Combes, in plainclothes, had advised him that crowds were gathering at the Ashfield City Football Stadium, half a mile from Ashfield Square. He suspected that they were going to all rally there before marching down to the Square. An hour later he confirmed that there was a crowd of around 2000 but that they appeared to be enjoying a pop and rock concert and a circus. “A circus ?", queried Chief Inspector Aitken. “ Yes, Governor," replied Combes.

The crowd in the Ashfield City Stadium enjoyed the music and the circus. The clowns were a particular favourite. Everyone was having a good time apart from 50 or so black-clad anarchists.

Chief Inspector Aitken was getting more and more bemused as it was now 1.45pm and there was no sign of the crowd moving out of the stadium. Then a minute later his radio crackled into life and Sergeant Combes said, “Four Hells Angels on Harley-Davidsons have arrived in the stadium." Five minutes later Combes radioed in to say: “ The bikers are on their way to you Governor, but I think I should warn you about something." “Not now, Combes," barked Aitken, “I am in command mode now."

The police surrounding Ashfield Square braced themselves ready for action as four Harley-Davidsons thundered into the Square itself. The bikes stopped and from the back of each one, a clown alighted carrying a case. The clowns waved off the bikers who promptly left the Square. The police watched in astonishment as the clowns slowly unpacked their cases and then set up a table and four chairs. Then they all sat down and set out tea cups, a tea pot and cakes. The clowns poured themselves tea and chatted away to each other.

“What do we do now, sir?" asked CI Aitkens second in command Inspector Brian Donnelly. “We wait," said Aitken confidently. “Obviously this is meant to lull us into a false sense of security. Smith and his rabble will be here enough soon enough." An hour later, Aitken was about to have a coronary. The huge crowd was still up in the Stadium peacefully enjoying themselves while he was facing a table load of four clowns drinking tea.

Eventually he snapped. “Donnelly – arrest those four", he shouted. “On what charge sir?" queried Donnelly. “Clowning around," yelled Aitken. “And wasting police time….anything you can think of… ” As each clown was led away in handcuffs by about six officers each, they showed clearly to the waiting news cameras the slogan on their chests – “Chloe's Clown Army Says No To Poverty”

“Chloe's Clown Army ?" asked John Butler, Sky duty news editor, as he watched the first pictures coming in of the events at Ashfield. His news crew had been sent up to report on a possibly hostile Anti-Poverty Rally, but it was not expected to be very newsworthy. Now he was intrigued. His reporter on the ground went up to the stadium and reported back to him.

John Butler immediately ordered his Six O'Clock News Team to work on the background to the story. Meanwhile in Ashfield Central Police Station Joe Smith and his fellow three clowns sat in separate cells and slowly smiled to themselves. CI Aitken had been in to tell them that they were all in very hot water and he expected the CPS to throw the book at them. Which was not the view of his 200 junior officers as they went off duty wondering why they had been told to expect a riot that afternoon.

“Can I watch the news on television, Sister ?" asked Chloe at around 5.45 that afternoon. “Oh wel,l if you must Chloe," replied Sister Burt. The TV was switched over to Sky and at 6pm the main news came on. Sister Burt nearly had a canary when Chloe shrieked “ That's my Daddy !" Sister Burt turned to see a report coming in from Ashfield Stadium and Square. There were shots of the crowd in the stadium, clowns on motorbikes, clowns having tea in the Square and then finally clowns being arrested.

As she listened in she heard interviews outlining the iniquities of poverty. Members of Joe Smith's committee outlined how they had been determined to have a peaceful rally, so had deliberately kept the main crowd entertained in the Stadium (including the pain in the ass anarchists) and gone for a thought provoking, very quiet event in the Square. And then one spokesman delivered his main punchline. "We cannot thank Chloe Smith enough for inspiring us to Send In The Clowns." Sister Burt's face was a picture. “I told you my Daddy was a clown”, said Chloe proudly.

Well – the story hit the internet and soon went viral. The pictures of riot police arresting four clowns having a tea party resonated around the world. Joe Smith and his three fellow clowns were released on the Sunday morning after the Home Secretary intervened and demanded to know from the Chief Constable of Ashfield whether it was his intention to make the British Police the laughing stock of the world. CI Aitken was put on immediate sick leave….

And as for Chloe ? Well, as you read this she is still very ill in hospital, and only time will tell. But her request to her Daddy to “Send In The Clowns" has been vindicated.

JUDGES' COMMENT: Very good and topical too. It presents a nice idea but also the value of listening to and considering an off-the-wall suggestion. Well written too.

Tomorrow: Read our next winner