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   Inside Out - East: Monday February 10, 2003


Man spraying graffiti
Graffiti is costing the council both time and money to clean up

Graffiti writers may see themselves as artists, but there are many residents in Northampton who would disagree. With £55,000 a year spent on cleaning it up, Inside Out investigates the problem of graffiti.

Subways, underpasses and motorway bridges, to a graffiti writer, it’s a blank canvas, but there’s one man in Northampton who wishes it would stay that way.

Bob Newcombe, a Probation Service Officer, along with his team of offenders, works tirelessly in an attempt to rid the town of vandalism.

The team works for up to four days a week. In addition Northampton Council spends £55,000 each year cleaning up graffiti. Removing it is far from easy and sometimes even fruitless.

Vandalism or art?

Graffiti on a wall
Graffiti is becoming an increasing problem in Northampton

One subway, a particular favourite with graffiti writers, is no sooner cleaned, than covered in graffiti once more.

But it doesn’t end with the subways - one man has had his own property vandalised not once, but twice, by the same writers.

Vandalism it may be, but to the graffiti writers, it is art. One graffiti writer says;

"Some people are never going to get their art shown in a gallery, so the only way of showing it is on a wall… It is breaking the law, but I wouldn’t always class it as vandalism,"

If some of their work could be viewed in abstract, there would be many inclined to agree that there is a great skill and artistry involved. When viewed on a subway wall, or worse, a private wall - many would also agree - it is nothing but vandalism, no matter how much skill is involved.

"I think it’s just sheer vandalism, it disgusts me," says Bob Newcombe.

Solution in sight

Warehouse with graffiti on the internal walls
Private property is being vandalised

So is there a solution? One Northamptonshire policeman, PC Peter Wing, believes there is. The writers use a signature so their work can be recognised by other graffiti writers. This signature is known as a ‘tag’.

"You do it for other writers to see… you see other writer’s work, that’s what it’s about," explains one writer.

In Wooton Fields, a new estate on the outskirts of Northampton, tags are becoming a increasing problem, but they may also provide the solution too.

If individual writers can identify each other through tags, then so can the police. And their punishment? Bob believes their fine should cover the cost of removal and with expensive chemicals required, that could be pretty hefty!

Writing on the wall

Sawn swimming past a wall of graffiti
Could tagging be the solution to catching the culprits?

In London, a scheme to identify culprits through their tags has resulted in several arrests.

But catching the culprits is not an easy task, particularly when you consider that the police are not just chasing mindless teenage vandal, but fully grown adults who are parents themselves.

So what is the solution? Whether it’s hefty fines, prison sentences or community service cleaning up their own work, one thing is for sure, in Northamptonshire at least, the writing is on the wall for graffiti writers.

See also ...

Fightback on graffiti front (News)

On the rest of the web
British Transport Police - Graffiti
Writing on the wall for graffiti (Guardian)

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

im doing gcse art and i think that it is an excelent example of true art it just needs to be done in the right places with permission from the council or something.

I think that it is an art and should be admired and not victimised.

Sheffield Invisable
90% of writers do not care about legal walls. Once a piece is on a permission wall, it ceases to be graffiti.

We live in a world where images are forced on us every day by companies advertising, so why complain when you see mine? Most prolific writers don't destroy much private property,and have a couple of do's and dont's. - No writing on churches, houses or cars.

Most graffiti is on publicly owned stuff like motorway bridges or walls along train lines, and I doubt a shop's turnover will be affected by a few tags on the wall outside.

Writers that destroy private property ie houses and cars, are usualy outside the scene, and harder punishments wont deter them.

northampton shud be sorted soon as i've had a word with sum policeman bout a legal wall .. as some of your probably know i got arrested for vandalism in northampton and i saw quite a bit of it on this documentary. but yes it is art and there may even be a few legal areas to paint in northampton in the near future. but gettin a legal wall in a big public place wont work. graffiti writers painting walls in front of public dont mix.

legal graffiti doesnt always work. i have visited a legal wall in london in plaistow...and yes there is some great artwork there. but it hasnt stopped the illegal graffiti round the whole area. maybe made it worse. a legal wall needs to be placed out the way of the public, but not too out the way. hope i can get the legal wall for northampton .. but no .. i aint no bricklayer .. so the council can fork out sum cash for a legal wall since it may work out better for them. .. £300 to clean a tag off a wall in northampton .. a big graffiti wall .. no cleaning involved! nuff sed!!!

Ks Soldier
I used to be an artist, as in canvases and paints. I sold a few paintings but when you're young its impossible to make it so I started to graff its much betta than the other kinda art and it looks better.

Don't go chatting about all this its not art stuff because it really is.

Graffiti Writer
Maybe if Northampton council put up a legal place 4 us lot 2 graffiti then we wouldn't do it where it isn't wanted.

Why do people keep calling graffiti mindless? Do you think writers are out in the street and happen to find paint an just write whatever first comes into our heads? People put lots of time and money into creating graffiti, legally and illegally.

Don Taskme
Why dont these so called "artists" stick to their own property to show off their "so called talents". One or two may be classed as artistic but what about the majority who just scrawll obscenities all over the place. Why should the taxpayer have to fork out to clear their rubbish. Real fines which reflect the cost of cleaning should be imposed.

Andrew Marnewick
I agree that graffiti in northampton is high, and is too covered in tags every where. However, some of the graffiti artists in northampton are extremely skilled and do is as a passion. Some writers are in their 30's and have kids. Already writers have to resort to finding as many aboandoned warehouses etc in order to get their art done. The council should provide legal walls or legal areas. This might not be the solution to tags but will get rid of big dubs under canals etc.

A.C.T crew sheffield est 1986.
we agree with harsh187,also it takes the council of a city 15 to 20 years to realise that giving graffiti artists a wall or two (wall of fame) that is what 90% of the graff writers have ever wanted. A good example, sheffield city council built a skate park after years of being asked by skaters, like most skate parks around the world artists are allowed to paint on the outer walls, but sheffield didnt even bother with any walls,this is why writers pushed to do illegal spots.

peace all ACT

right in reply to your ignorance on this subject how can it be said that graffiti is not an art form in many a other country graffiti is in gallerys actually there are gallerys in this country that recognise this art.

and i see how it says "private property vandalised" the warehouse pictured is now demolished due to people throwing partys in there not people painting on the walls .the said warehouse was out of the way of people so if they didnt want to see it they dont go down there....

perhaps sorting a wall out for people to paint might work, hope the council sit up and take notice!!!!!!!

well why not build some where, where the artists can paint where its legal an the public will see ?

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