Editorial comment by Stephen Horton.
Anyone living in, or travelling through, the Stokes cannot have failed to notice the plague of tagging-style graffiti vandalism that has swept across our area over the last twelve months. The damage ranges from very large (2m+ wide) tags sprayed on public infrastructure in highly prominent locations to a proliferation of smaller tags sprayed and drawn on bus shelters, road signs and utility cabinets. In some roads, such as Braydon Avenue, it is difficult to find a single piece of street furniture that hasn’t been targeted by the taggers.
Readers who have contacted us on the matter have questioned why our local councils, business property owners and the utility companies aren’t acting to remove the graffiti in a timely fashion. Part of the problem may be that graffiti is simply not being reported, most likely because people don’t know who to contact or are frustrated by the need to make lengthy phone calls or fill in over-complex website forms (this shouldn’t be a problem for Bradley Stoke residents, thanks to Bradley Stoke Town Council – see below).
However, investigations by the Journal have revealed that even when issues are reported, no action is being taken or organisations are frequently failing to meet the timescales they have committed to in their own policies on graffiti removal.
Notable examples include graffiti that appeared underneath the Bradley Stoke Way bridge over Stoke Brook in the nature reserve, where two massive tags were sprayed in late 2017. Despite South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) having a policy for removing graffiti from its own property within three working days, it took two reminders and 48 working days to finally address this instance. Whether the council’s solution of untidily painting over the graffiti with badly matched cream-coloured paint (on a grey concrete background) is actually an improvement, or in any way acceptable in a sensitive conservation area, is open to debate. Needless to say, the newly provided “canvas” was resprayed with a new tag within just a few weeks.
SGC also took more than three weeks to remove several large tags from the underside of Primrose Footbridge (over Bradley Stoke Way), first reported by a resident on 1st April.
Another example of inaction by a publicly funded body relates to a massive tag sprayed on the corner of the swimming pool hall at Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre, directly underneath one of the centre’s CCTV cameras (so no excuses of not knowing about it!). The Journal was made aware that this had been reported to the police by a local community group on 21st March. By 21st April, it still hadn’t been removed, so the editor reported it directly to SGC. With it still not having been removed by 25th April, as this article was being prepared, a statement was requested from Circadian Trust, operators of the leisure centre. Within 36 hours of sending an email, efforts had been made to remove the tag, although more work will be needed to obliterate it completely.
Over in Stoke Gifford, frustration at Network Rail’s refusal to remove a large tag in a very prominent position on Parkway Bridge (on the Brierly Furlong side) is understood to have led one resident to take matters into his or her own hands by neatly painting over the offending graffiti.
SGC says it will only remove graffiti from its own property. We asked if it refers reports of graffiti on other property to the relevant owner; it said that it didn’t, on the grounds that it “has limited resources” and needs to focus on “delivering our statutory services”. The council confirmed that Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre is part of its property portfolio, although it is leased to operators Circadian Trust.
Despite SGC’s response that it doesn’t report graffiti to other property owners, it has clearly been in touch with Network Rail (NR) over the Parkway Bridge incident, as an email reply from NR to SGC seen by the Journal states: “As an arm’s length publicly funded body, Network Rail is constrained by law in how we spend public money. Having reviewed your case it was felt that the graffiti should not be removed by Network Rail on this occasion. This is because the graffiti is not offensive.”
Back in Bradley Stoke, the town council (BSTC) has had very large graffiti tags sprayed on its property at the Jubilee Centre, Brook Way Activity Centre and at the skate park (one on a container and one on a wall). In all cases, the vandalism occurred overnight and although captured on CCTV, the images were [filmed from] “too far way to discern the culprits”.
Another issue is that very few incidents are being recorded as a crime, which in turn means that the police cannot justify devoting resources to investigating them. SGC says only that it “shares information on hate-related and extremist graffiti” with the police, while the town council “only tends to report the large graffiti as a crime” (four in 16 months).
Following discussion about the “increasing problem of graffiti” at a recent BSTC meeting, the local police beat team were asked to attend a future meeting. PC Jamie Shiels later replied that they were unable to attend, but provided a written report (see facing page).
In light of the increasing occurrences of graffiti and the time being taken to remove it (from its own property) BSTC has decided to purchase, at a cost of £3,882, a specialist steam cleaner capable of removing graffiti from many different types of surface. In due course, the council hopes to be able to use the equipment to remove graffiti from residential property, at no cost to the owner, subject to a disclaimer being signed.
• Disclosure: The editor has been active in reporting many instances of graffiti to the authorities and urging BSTC to take up the matter.
Image: Tagging-style graffiti in Bradley Stoke and Stoke Gifford. Anticlockwise from top left: Tagging underneath the Bradley Stoke Way bridge over Stoke Brook in the nature reserve. Tagging on Parkway Railway Bridge (Brierly Furlong side). Tagging on the swimming pool hall at Bradley Stoke Leisure Centre, directly underneath a CCTV camera.
Bradley Stoke police beat team report on graffiti issues
We have a number of areas in which parts of Bradley Stoke have been defaced by graffiti being written/sprayed onto walls, electric sub stations and even bins. This is not a new problem and is indeed not isolated to Bradley Stoke. However it does cause a nuisance and an eyesore for residents.
The problem is not confined to one particular area but seems spread around the town, including the nature reserve. The underpass at Huckley Way has recently been cleaned of graffiti by the council, however, on talking to the contractors, they state that the paint being used can often be difficult to remove. A new bin, which I am told was only in place for about five weeks, had also been tagged at the Huckley Way entrance to the underpass. The tag was ‘Drop’, which is one of the more common in the town and is often rather larger than the other tags. This tag I have seen while on foot patrol not only in Bradley Stoke but also in a number of locations including the A38, on the foot underpass and on two locations where the train line runs beneath the A38.
A couple of weeks ago a male was arrested while committing criminal damage by tagging an electricity substation in Patchway. He was caught in the act by officers who were responding to another incident and happened to be driving past while he was busy tagging. He is currently under investigation to ascertain if any other criminal damages can be linked to him. As yet, I have not found his tag anywhere in Bradley Stoke.
Unless the suspect(s) are caught in the act, this is a hard crime to actually stop. The tag can be drawn/sprayed in seconds. We do now have powers to stop and search for items used in criminal damage, this was not always the case. However, we have to have reasonable grounds to perform the search.
I have photographed a number of the areas in Bradley Stoke which have been tagged and have graffiti. I have created an ongoing crime report to collate the information gathered if any suspects are caught. This will enable a quick search of any potential linked crimes. I have passed the crime reference number to the local council clerk.
Going forward from this date we are currently one PCSO short in Bradley Stoke, however it is hoped that this is only for the short term. We will be looking to prioritise our future patrols around the Jubilee Centre and Baileys Court which as the days grow longer tend traditionally to see an increase in ASB and criminal damage. These are areas in which a lot of the graffiti is centred on and the surrounding parks and streets are affected.
PC Jamie Shiels
Ways to report graffiti
- Report graffiti to SGC via its website at www.southglos.gov.uk/report or by phoning Street Care on 01454 868000
- Inform BSTC about graffiti within Bradley Stoke, via its dedicated webpage at www.bradleystoke.gov.uk/graffiti.php, email email@example.com or phone 01454 205020
- Report graffiti and other issues via the FixMyStreet website or smartphone app
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal news magazine (on pages 16 & 17). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH, to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.
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