BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Local BBC Sites

Neighbouring Sites

Related BBC Sites

Contact Us

Arts and Literature

You are in: Manchester > Entertainment > Arts, Film and Culture > Arts and Literature > Street art or street crime?


Krek's graffiti art in Manchester

Street art or street crime?

Is urban graffiti art or vandalism? Two young men jailed for spray painting trains and railway bridges in Manchester have walked free after having their sentences quashed on appeal. But what is the right punishment for the crime?

Is urban graffiti street art? Or vandalism? And should graffiti artists face the same punishment as vandals?


Jailed: Krek at work

20-year-old Thomas Dolan and Thomas Whittaker, 18, both from Macclesfield, were given 15 and 12 month prison sentences respectively after admitting painting graffiti on trains and railways stations at Manchester Crown Court.

But now their sentences were overturned at the Court of Appeal.  (29 Oct 2007) Both men - who had served two months of the original sentence -  have now been given a two-year conditional discharge.

The decision follows protests against the sentences by their parents and a campaign on networking website Facebook.

Five-year Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were also quashed at the Appeal Court in London. They said the ASBOs were 'inappropriate' because the graffiti was neither threatening nor offensive.

Thomas Dolan and Thomas Whittaker caused damage put at £23,000 by painting their graffiti art on trains, stations and railway property in Gatley, Bury, Buxton, Wigan, Macclesfield, Stockport and Longsight.

They were traced after British Transport Police (BTP) tracked website postings of their work. Dolan used the graffiti tag of Krek and Whittaker went by the name of Mers.

Artists or vandals?

What is the right punishment for graffiti art? Nothing? A community sentence? Or should graffiti artists pay the same price as vandals?

last updated: 30/10/07

Have Your Say

The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

I think its this country's rules and punishment are not directed properly onto the real criminals. they need to sort it out . real fast before they make more of a mess than it already is.Put the people away that deserve it, not the ones that are merely expressing themselves with art.We have to put up with looking at billboards with advertisment's and other forms of ads . What makesit right, do we always want to see it?Do we want to see millions and millions of adverts trying to sell insurance! NOOOOO!!!But graffiti is a crime? why isnt advertising a crime! we see to much of that if anything!

Derek Johnson
It is paint litter and should carry the same sentence as a litter lout, or fine them the cost of removing the so called steet art

D LOng
apart from a few kids (mostly in their 20's and 30s) most people are sick of graffiti...makes an area look run down and dangerous, and as for taggers....marking their "turf" like dogs mark trees

For JEDI's comment: The whole point of this discussion is that quality graffiti art done in the right places ISN'T a crime and should never be regarded as so. I assume by your logic that you'd turn yourself in everytime you went one mile-per-hour over the speed-limit... oh, thought not

The arguement for having to pay for graffiti being cleaned up is absolute nonsense. A lot of GOOD graffiti art is spectacular, challenging and beautiful and shouldn't be cleaned off for any reason whatsoever... I'd rather see something visually stimulating on a wall that makes me LOOK and THINK, makes me step back, makes me impressed, rather than another celebrity-fronted billboard poster or crumbling, flaking paint. The sentence was completely disproportionate and the magistrate should be reprimanded for it. This isn't justice.

if the council provided an area that could be used as a canvas then the people that consider this art could work in these areas and take photos of the complete work that could be worked over by another, leaving the "i waz ere" scrawlers to be cought and sentanced. encouraging a skill in the apethetic is always good and could lead to jobs for these people in advertising film props etc

To Mike Heidelberg:I am sick and tired of having corporate advertising billboards forced upon me. Who gave these individuals the right to thrust their rubbish dressed up as information onto us. It is time to say enough, zero tolerance.I'd rather see a nice piece of graff than some big corporate consumer brainwashing.

I know a graffiti artist and the work he does is fantastic. In the town we live in there are allocated places for the artists to show off their fabulous work. It certainly brightens up an otherwise dreary looking town.I dont agree with the long sentences these lads were given but i do think they should be punished as it is us tax payers that will eventually foot the bill for the clean up.My graff artist friend told me that his mum is happy for him to do his graff as long as it is not on private or public property unless he has permission or it is a designated place for graff.He recently graffed up his friends car(with permission) and it looks brilliant....!

Graffiti doesn't cost anything to clear up if its not cleaned up! SPIRO - the amount used to clean vandalism compared to education/NHS is minute and would make very little impact. The amount spent taking them to court, then through appeal, keeping them in custody - all amounts to a lot more cost to the tax payer. Also I think you'll find that council budgets pay for cleaning up graff so makes little or no difference to the government budget for the NHS. If it's wasting tax payer money that worries you, you should be taking more interest in the unlawful wars our country takes part in or our minister's ridiculous expenses. These waste much larger amounts and are infinately more unethical and immoral.

streets are not canvas, they are public property, owned by us all, not just by graffiti painters. If they want to paint walls, they should ask permission from the relevant authority first. The punishment? Something that will deter but not cost taxpayers a lot of money. Cleaning up graffiti for a year is a clear winner.

Good on them! Why are people talking about spray-painting houses and cars? They did their work on railway stations and trains, not peoples private property!We live in an age of absolute hypocrisy where a lightbulb in a room wins the Turner prize and it's great, but kids like this who have real talent are locked up for making a drab railway station look a bit brighter and more interesting. I agree that there are grafiti artists (and they are artists) out there who do not have the skill these guys clearly do and make a mess on places, but work like this should be encouraged. It keeps kids from comitting real crimes and their work is interesting and bright, enhancing the area rather than destroying it. It's definitely not right to grafiti on people's private possessions such as a house or car, but these guys did not commit that crime. I suggest the people criticising them at their computer with their Monet replica print on the wall read the article first!

Has a street artist myself, if you do the crime, be prepared to do the time. But the punishment has to fit the crime. A jail sentence way overboard, community sentence or cleaning up the graffiti or even a fine would have been more appropriate.

Wilful damage to another persons property- they are common selfish vandals and should pay back every penny of the damage.

D Johnson
Even if it is counted as art by some it is still crime. Cleaning cost the rest much money which should have been used for positive action. If they knew the difference between responsible and anti-social activity they would not have defaced other peoples surfaces (i.e. not just 'property' but community scenes).

Having seen so much of what these guys do I am totally against the sentances. They are Artists in their own right. I love there work. If they were given spaces to paint we would not have this problem. kepp it up guys. Its the scallies on the streets doing mindless things like writing their names we need to get rid of. These two guys are respectful of environments,.

An alternative: Someone should go around to their house and spray paint across their living room walls. Then they'll know what it's like to have their environment defiled, such as we have to endure living normal lives in London, particularly on trains covered in gang related illiterate scrawl.

it's disgusting and it ruins cities and highways. lowers property values.

No doubt some of these people have talent....but defacing property is a crime and has to be punished. Cleaning it off and being shamed is enough. How would they like it if I came around and put my "art" all over their property.

Instead of the jail sentence they should have been made to remove all of their work . I think they got off lightly it,s not art it,s an eyesore and offensive .

We have to put up with commercial advertising polluting our streets! I'd much rather see colourful graffiti pieces than yet another evil bank trying to sell me more debt.

David Richardson
Perhaps the supporters of these two fail to realise the impact that graffit has on neighbourhoods. Many see it as a start of a downward spiral, first this then other damage and then it gets worse and worse. I echo the commnets of those who say they are sick and tired of having it force upon them when they go out, it makes places and public transport seem worse and the vast majority of it is simply spray painted tags and names. It may seem fine to judge it then go home to your safe community but for those who live amongst graffit will probably tell you it is one of the clearest signal crimes of a broken neighbourhood. Those that disagree should look to the most recent laws that have forced police forces and councils to seek the views of residents of what their priorities are, unsurprisingly graffiti and cleaning it up rates highly everytime. On a final note those that expel so much energy into a campaign to free these two should really concentrate their energies into more important issues in the world..

darren farell
o the fickle public, bullible as ever. Peodo's muggers and violent criminals get rehabilitation orders and minor offences get months in prison....the police and judiceral system is a complete joke. If only an undercover reporter were to enlighten the public about the real goings on of behind the would bring this country to its knees

chris p bacon
"SpiroGraffiti is vandalism. It is deliberate and wilful damage to someone else's property. It costs either the individual who own the property or us, the tax payer, to clean it up."It costs far more to send and keep these people in prison, the drawn out process the police use, each court appearance, solicitors baristers fees all paid for on legal aid.Prisons are so full they keep sending people away, and using police/court cells at a cost of £350 a day Where is your tax money really being spent??. Graffiti is infact a very small amount That is before you mix non criminlas with the career criminals. That all adds to the "tax" you pay but that is not metioned. Police chase easy targets and not those criminals where some actual "police work" needs to be done. As long as those government targets are met each month they can feed you the gullible public figures of "crime being reduced" WHo cares if there is a bit of graff around its not a big deal.its only the people with nothing to worry about who cry wolf

The Appeal Court judges must have sniffed Exhibit A - the aerosol cans. The lads committed criminal damage and should have stayed put for longer. And as for the comments about the guys exercising their skills...please!

BTW people... The BTP is funded by the Rail Operating Companies so the money they spent on the operation to catch these two convicted criminals was not funded by your taxes....

My son was badly beaten up - 2 of the 5 guys got 2 Months. These two guys are practicing their art and are given over a year. Gross criminal injustice.

You Liberal apologists need to realise a few things...Graffiti on transport infrastructure means that trespass of some sort of criminal trespass/burgalary has occured... This increases the chances of mummy's boys like these two jokers getting fried or squashed... Just like those two fools at Barking depot...Actually you have all changed my mind... I am fully in favour of trackside graff if it results in positive outcomes like the death of "artists"....

Actually what these people did was not brighting up the streets, more like making the trains that others have to use into a Ghetto. Not only should they have been done with Criminal Damage, they should have been done with Trespassing on the railway and endgering theirs or others lives. Once again the courts have decreed that to cause criminal damage is ok. Perhaps these two should tag the judges car and house and then see how impressed he would be. And for those who think its ok what about you sending them your address so they can tag your home as well.

It's vandalism pure and simple. The parents would scream blue murder if you sprayed their house or car so why do they think their kids should get away with it?

these people are criminals and should be in jail. soft sentences like this only embolden other graffiti terrorists

Paint a pavement and it's called art, paint a wall and it's vandalism.Doesn't make sense.I'm think its right the original sentences were overturned.

Sam Coward 50 year old
Gifted young artists like these two change drab unsightly buildings into very clever art. What a shame that we still live in an age where the stupid people still run the country. As for the judge giving a prison term, well I think most of us know that judges have very little in common with the real world and reality.

Mike Heidelberg Germany
I am sick and tired of having graffiti forced upon me. Who gave these individuals the right to thrust their rubbish dressed up as urban art onto us. It is time to say enough, zero tolerance.

They are not "artists", they are vandals. If Denise Dolan thinks that there is nothing wrong with what they do they could stayt home and spray paint her home and maybe the car too. As to the judges who said "graffiti was not threatening or offensive" and overturned the sentences, perhaps they could invite the boys over to spay their houses.


the kids are alright,art is art streets are canvas! lock kids up and lose them forever, the judge should have made them clean it up and funded a designated art area. kids without talent mash bus stops kids with talent go to jail.

in my opinion graffiti is art but when it is in the right place...not one someone shop or house that is just wrong...

no,yes they got caught but if what they were doing is an expreson and not just a random act then they should be allowd to act

David From Manny Manny
how can a guy steel over 10 grand of charity money and get a shorter sentence than two artist's who were jus expressing them selves how they know best FREE KREK AND MERS !!!!!what is this world coming too???

Street art looks great its a talent, if youv`e got it flaunt it.

Francis Drake
Bottom line is, the courts do as they please. The "kids"will carry on painting despite these high profile cases.In fact the penalties involved give more prestige to the people who are taking the risks.So the penalties will just keep getting harsher.Clearly a vicious cycle.

The UK's punishment system is on it's arse.Banksy is seen as a celebrity and has even won awards for doing criminal damage, promoting vandalism?While else where people with much greater talent are getting thrown in prison for over a year.FREE KREK AND MERS!

Graffiti is vandalism. It is deliberate and wilful damage to someone else's property. It costs either the individual who own the property or us, the tax payer, to clean it up. It shows a lack of regard or respect to other people’s property and is therefore criminal. Dressing this up as art does not justify damaging other people property.While I agree that some sentencing of other criminals are disproportionate to this crime, this does not detract from the fact that these people deserve to be properly punished We need to address those other crimes and how they are being dealt with, not turn these people into folk heroes.There is a Robin Hood type of attitude of condoning certain types of criminal acts because they are seen to either be against ‘the establishment’, faceless corporations or rich people. This does not make it right.There is always a cost to society for these acts. The tax money used to clean up graffiti and deal with these criminals is money taken out of our health system or our education system. It does not just magically appear. People who show such disregard for society and the people around them deserve to be punished.

Soul Graffiti
God bless our legal system.How dare these two youngsters try to un-grey the streets of Manchester... we don't want it looking like Barcelona, Melbourne or San Francisco, we're happy as it is.When i travel to work in the morning the only artwork i want to see is pictures of things people are trying to sell me.

If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. Vandalism is breaking the law. You break the law, you should be punished. At last the british courts get it right!!! Its just a shame the courts don't come down so hard on drink drivers!

How can anyone with a brain think that spraying paint on someone else's property is okay?They did the crime so must serve the time. As for the length of the sentence it seems about right. The penalty must act as a deterrent and a long sentence does that.Should other criminals serve more? Absolutely. But that's a different issue.People who believe that graffiti looks wonderful should invite the guys around to their home and have their car resprayed. I mean, if it's supposed to look great on a train carriage it'll look equally fabulous on some moron's car. Or maybe that's just too close to home.

Has the Law gone mad !
How is it that a woman Doped up on an excessive amount of illegal drugs and a stupid amount of alcohol was aloud to be caring for a child! what made it worse how is it that she was let off by the courts with a slap on the wrists after facing trail for allowing an illegal dog (which she was fully aware was not safe to be around people)to kill the little girl ! I think the Justice System need to get a grip on their priorities and soon! The law needs to start targeting those people who are comiting murder, neglecting and abusing children, dealing guns and drugs! rather than trying to keep there stats up by making an example of those people they do actually manage to catch doing something illegal! it is true they have comitted a crime as many of us do in day to day life without realising! however I do think this is extreamly exesive. The majority of the time grafitti work like this helps to make alot of places look better. Is it just me or did you also think the law was there to help make our lives safer!?? Do you feel safe enough to walk down your street in the dark, to go to the shop when you see a large group of youths hanging around outside !?!?!I can say that I feel so much safer now knowing that these two artists are locked up for making some rundown places look better for other peoples benifit rather than those 3 men who mugged and beat me 10 months ago who are still walking the streets! it makes me so proud to know the police would rather chase cases like this instead of coming and even taking a statement from me for a crime like that!Sickening !

its no good saying another criminal only got 5 months for doing a worse crime. the sentence fits this crime the other examples have got of lighlty. if my child had done this i would back the judge

Tilsley Joe
What is all this inane bickering about, they went out to commit a crime,in this case criminal damage, on property that does not belong to them. Their perents should hold their heads in shame, at the wanton damage their children have caused. perhaps they will now agree to their sons committing graffiti on their cars, caravans, houses etc. Or is this a case of NIMBY in leafy Cheshire. If you can't do the time, don't do the CRIME.

Time and time again we are told that the prisons are too full and that we should only resort to a custodial sentence when all else fails. I would much rather have these restricted prison places taken by violent or sexual criminals than these two young men.It seems to me this Judge has not considered other options as he wanted to make an example and these two young men have paid the price.Yes this is a crime and it did cost the train company thousands of pounds to remove the said Graffiti, so the sentence needed to provide a suitable deterrent. A substantial fine and a few hundred hours community service cleaning the streets of litter or removing Graffiti from the city walls would have been more fitting.The student who was charged because she placed her feet on the train seats should be VERY grateful she was not up in front of this Judge; god knows what she would be doing right now!

this is completely unjust,free these boys now before anymore talent goes to waste FREE KREK AND MERS X

the truth
The real question is did they have permission to graffiti where they did? If the answer is no then they must learn that actions have consecuences. In the future I suggest they graffiti areas where they have permission to do so.

Its a sad day when a judge feels that prision sentances of 15 and 12 months is a suitable punishment for some graffiti. The punishment hardly fits the crime does it? Double standards from the criminal justice system, plus you dont seem the police rushing out to arrest Banksy do you.

Any one who agrees with this sentence has obvipously not seen what happens to people in prison. Young people do not come out reformed,they come out with an abundence of criminal connections.I think it should be obvious that putting young people in prison will only allow them to be influenced by career criminals. i belive trains should be painted , it makes the commuting that little less soul destroying

In my home town some lads got drunk ,Stole a car and killed a man with dangerous driving. The biggest sentence handed out was 12 months , i very much doubt theres a mixed opinion about what they did. surely they should recive a harsher punishment ?

We are not saying that they haven't done anything wrong, they have admitted what they have done in court. What we are saying is that the punishment does not fit the crime!Violent offenders are getting a slap on the wrist and allowed back on our streets, yet these 2 who are of no risk to the community get sent to prison(in fact TJ volunteers in workshops for kids in his community)

john stonall
Want to be an artist ?go to art school!Its Vandalism not art,stop kidding yourselves.

Of course they should be punished. It may be artistic, that's not the debate. Making your painting or art work on other people's propety without their permission is clearly against the law.A better sentance for them would be to force them to clean every railway bridge and every train in Greater Machester to remove these "artistic" eyesores.

In my opinion graffiti can look very good and add colour, however only if it is done tastefully, if it is rude or offencive then this is vandalism, but looking at the pictures above in my eyes they are brightening the place up a bit, the man is obviuosly got a talent and maybe should try and use it a little more constructively.

They are hardly a menace to the public and locking them up will just make them part of the problem. Anyone defending this level of sentencing is a fool. Prison doesn't work and is totally unjustified for a crime like this.

Damage smamage. They are true talented artists!!!!! it's a real joy to see!!!!

Jack Smith
There is something very wrong with society when we can jail two graffiti artists for 15 and 12 months, but only give Chris Langham 5 months for possessing horrific images of child abuse. Are we saying we value the cleanliness of our streets over the safety of our children? It would appear so!

Jane Price
I don't condone breaking the law, but a jail sentence for drawing on property is disproportionate to the crime. I am in my sixties but there is a strong and vibrant community of 14 -24 years olds in Manchester and other cities and who connect with each other through the internet and with activities such a skateboarding, BMX, freerunning, music and art - graffiti being one style. This community is ignored or treated as a nuisance by the authorities and by most people out of their age bracket. These youths don't play with mechano sets but they are hugely energetic and creative - just what Manchester used to be proud of - innovation, creativity, cutting edge thinking. Putting these two in jail has served nothing more than to demonstrate how little we believe that youth have a place in our city - if you can't get them off the streets, then chuck them in jail.

vandalism is vandalism how ever clever it may look but don't let them be idle in prison send them out to clean this so called art of the buildings they damage not give them art classes in prison,that will only make them better at what they clearly are already infamous for.

does it matter?
grow up!this punishment never fits the crime.these 2 lads are 2 of the nicest people i have ever met and do not deserve this.people do alot worse than this and get away with it.its a joke

ads hollabone
Shouldn't the parents represent and protect there children from they believe is an overzealous sentencing. Look at the quality of the art work in question. Take any cultural significant city on the planet and ask yourself if the same punishment would have been handed down! Barcelona, Tokyo etc etc, we are completely out of touch with (to coin a phrase) youth culture in this city. Look at the scum walking the streets every night looking for trouble and the violence caused by it, that is the real problem with Manchester. Free Krek and Mers

A lot of people seem to overlook the difference between street art and low-rent graffiti; there are a lot of talented artists in the graffiti world (of which I am a huge fan) but for every talented person there are 100 copycat vandals who unfortunately give the art a bad name.If you take a walk down the "graffiti hotbed" of Brick Lane/Shoreditch you may catch sight of an amazing piece of art or a Banksy classic but you'll have to look past the sea of tags and vandalism to spot it.Not quite sure what can be done about that given the subvertive nature of the art but certainly I don't think artists such as those mentioned in the article should be locked up. Go and find the vandals defacing the walls with poor quality graffiti/tags and educate them with the money saved from prison instead.

Andrew Mackie
Gordon Brown should intervene, if he has any metal that is. They should get a slap on the wrists, told to tidy it up or in an ideal world a commission to do more in drab areas of the city. The amount it will cost to send them to jail combined with absolutely no threat to the public or likelyhood that they would/should feel real remorse makes this a poor reflection on our whole legal system and they are just kids!

A More fitting punishment if any would be to have the artist remove their work,this is not vandalism or the destruction of any property,If this was Banksy would they been seen as vandals or would the trains and walls become art valued by the people who see it.every day we are bombarded by adverts using sex and lies to encourage us to part with money, every day we walk past the councils or governments failures at improving our lives and where we live, derelict buildings, areas of decay crime and oppression, out of this comes artist that with no intent on making money try to improve the space we live in, a gesture for us, I think they the artist, graffiti artist and their work are something that we should be proud of, What did Langham get for downloading Child porn 10 months, and these Graff artist get 12 15 months,Britain should be ashamed.this punishment does not fit the crime and all the judical system has done is ruin the lives of 2 young students about to start their universities, on their way to being productive members of a better sociaty, now what ?criminalised and we are all worse of for it.the artist should have got better leagal advice, they could be in class by now.

Graffiti artists are nothing more than vandalising criminals and deserve all they get. I wouldn't think twice about sending them down, especially after hearing the total cost of the damage they did.

mike carroll
Street crime they spray painted property not belonging to them. How simple is it to understand, they are both over 18yrs old & have to accept the outcome of thier actions. The fact that thier parents have complained is a joke, they should be repremanding thier children for the shame of having thier name dragged through the courts

These young people should be applauded for bringing colour to our dull world. They've broken the silence most young people are faced with and expressed themselves in a way which is truly their own. We need more people who are prepared to bring colour to blank brick walls and to challenge the uniformity of our corporate world. They aren't the ones doing damage, its people who want to silence our youth with terms like 'anti-social behaviour'.

Ian Johnson
What a joke. Rapists and peadophiles get less than that. They were asking for trouble using busses and trains for their artwork, but I would have thought a community based sentence would have been more to the point. Cleaning graffitti would have been poetic justice. That said, I am all for graffitti art. It is art and not just vandalism for the sake of it. Another bizarre judgement in a country with a history of them.

John Whitney
If these so called 'artists' want to display their work, then do so like any other 'artist' in a permissable space/studio. The blatent use of other peoples property or public transport,is typical of the attitude of the youth of today's society. Where it believes it can do what it likes, to whatever it likes and there are no consequences. Therefore It is vandalism! Serve your sentence!

A man gets 10 months for child porn and this court gives 15 for dmanging property - which does our society value more childred or material posesions

Rob, Manchester
If graffiti's properly done with council approval - then generally the quality of work is usually a good effort.These two were just intent on putting their crummy tags on trains, that didn't even operate through their home town. They got off lightly with those short terms. The parents are foolish to complain, they after all brought them up like that.

one word: banksy

Yes of course its vandalism. They should have got 13 years not 13 months.The whole country looks like a toilet because of people like them.

Where do these young men live, i fancy going round to respray their homes and cars, i wonder what justice his family would like if i were caught. Simple message really, if its against the law, don't do it, no respect, thought, concideration, should learn that in prison..

Gem, Manc
Although they didn't necessarily choose the right medium to express their art, the level of punishment they have received is ludicrous. There are recorded sentences for sexual assault which have carried a shorter jail term than these two guys have received. It is completely ludicrous. Has the world gone mad?

Their sentences were way too harsh. To make an example of two youg guys & basically ruin their lives is extremely unfair. In no way do they pose a threat to society. I'm 100% behind their appeal campaign.

You are in: Manchester > Entertainment > Arts, Film and Culture > Arts and Literature > Street art or street crime?

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy