Published: 12th February 2015
Graffiti is a harmless expression of art – or is it? Most people regard it as an eyesore and some feel threatened by it as it can create an intimidating atmosphere. A few see it as a way of making their mark bringing them cudos and thrills.
Train company Southern was hit by graffiti vandals overnight on February 8/9 with 30 carriages targeted and withdrawn from service. Given that train companies have to lease their carriages rather than owning them, they obviously only lease the minimum quantity needed to fulfil their franchise contractual obligations with the Department for Transport (DfT).
The British Transport police (BTP) has a suggested policy to train companies that they do not operate graffitied carriages and therefore do not provide a mobile advertising hoarding for the so-called artists. Therefore, Southern had to make a choice, go against BTP policy or cancel trains and inconvenience passengers and a potential penalty from the DfT.
They chose to cancel several trains while the carriages were cleaned at a cost of thousands of pounds. A total repaint of a carriage costs a minimum of ten thousand pounds and graffiti is estimated to cost over £10 million annually by Network Rail and the BTP.
There is another argument that passengers will want a train whatever colour it comes in but others will not as they might say the train company is being lax if they allow graffitied trains to operate. In mainland Europe, there seems to be a different policy with widespread graffiti left on trains.
There is an obvious risk of injury to these vandals who trespass onto the railway, especially south of the Thames as most lines are electrified at 750 volts. And they often paint over lineside signs bringing a potential risk to rail operations.
Courts do not appear to necessarily consider the cost and inconvenience of these actions so perhaps making the offenders understand the consequences of their actions is a way forward. They could be made to meet irate passengers as well as working in a depot overnight to see what goes onto make trains operate.
When a fare dodger is caught as a recent case when a City worker fiddled his fares, it was headline news and the man lost his job and was made to repay the costs of his fare avoidance.
The reality is that graffiti vandals do not get punishment commensurate with their damage in financial terms. It is not a victimless crime, ask the passengers who have been crushed into a short-formed train or delayed as a result of this.
If a train is cancelled and it carries 300 passengers who each have to wait 15 minutes for the next one, this = 4500 minutes delay = 75 hours or over a cumulative 3 days. And this assumes they can all get on the next one.
So maybe the Courts could base the punishment on the total potential delay to passengers as well as the financial cost of the cleanup.
The BTP reported this month that two men narrowly escaped jail for graffiti spraying trains in Sheffield following an investigation. Wesley James Reaney, 33, of Crimicar Lane, Sheffield, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit graffiti and was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment suspended for 18 months, 40 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £400 compensation to Freightliner. He also received the same sentence for a second charge, this time with compensation to be paid to Northern Rail.
Jamie Jones, 37, Main Street, Grenoside, Sheffield, denied the charge but was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 4 months in jail, suspended for 18 months, 50 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £400 to Northern Rail.
The pair were brought to justice after a British Transport Police (BTP) investigation revealed that Reaney had conspired with five others to commit criminal damage (graffiti) against train operating companies, mainly Freightliner and Northern Rail that occurred from November 2012 to April 2013.
Four others received community orders for their part in the vandalism. Alex James Cuthbertson, 33, of Causeway Glade, Dore, Sheffield was handed a 12 month community order, 70 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £400 compensation to Freightliner.
Dean Tony Widdowson, 37, of Hollinsend Avenue, Intake, Sheffield received a 12 month community order, 50 hours unpaid work and must pay £400 compensation to Freightliner.
Daniel James Carlisle, 41, address unknown, was given a 12 month community order, 60 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay £400 compensation to Freightliner.
Phillip Steven Taylor, 35, of May Tree Lane, Waterthorpe, Sheffield, was handed a 12 month community order, 70 hours unpaid work and must pay Northern Rail £400. Reaney was key to the investigation as evidence recovered from his mobile phone led police to the others.
All six were sentenced on Thursday, 5 February, at Sheffield Crown Court.
DC Lee Parsons, who led the investigation, said: “Criminal damage will not be tolerated by BTP or the train operating companies. A lot of damage was caused by these men with the train operating companies left to pay the price of clearing up the graffiti.
"Graffiti vandals who go near tracks also put themselves at serious risk of harm as they don’t know if a train is coming or if tracks are live – it’s an incredibly selfish risk to take.” It can also create a climate of fear for those using and working on the railways.
The BTP also said that dealing with graffiti also diverts valuable police and staff resources. Hundreds of thousands of staff hours are taken up in cleaning, repairs and police time. London Underground devotes some 70,000 hours a year just to cleaning up graffiti.
They employ a number of prevention techniques that have proved successful against the serious vandal such as night vision glasses and thermal imaging to catch vandals. BTP Crime Reduction Advisors work with railway businesses on security for sidings and sheds, stations and trains and we recommend the use of anti-graffiti surfaces and paints to deter offenders.
Serious vandals are often involved with other types of crime, such as drugs and robberies, and our efforts to bring them to justice can help to reduce other instances of crime on the railways too.
So, graffiti costs passengers money and time, it is not a harmless expression of art despite the claims of the errant street artists.