Published: 10:00, 22 July 2019
| Updated: 19:20, 22 July 2019
Councillors in Canterbury have hiked fines for graffiti vandals - despite the authority admitting it does not know how many people are being handed the penalties.
A motion to increase the punishment from £80 to £150 has been voted through in a bid to deter nuisance taggers and street "artists" from defacing buildings across the district.
But Canterbury City Council has conceded it has no official figures for the number of vandals hit with fines.
KMTV reporter Isabella Miller spoke to local businesses and councillors about the issue
It says the numbers are not separated from penalties issued for flyposting - when posters and banners are displayed publicly without permission.
It is thought the majority of the 47 fines issued in the last five years will have been for flyposting, given how much easier it is to prove who is responsible.
Community committee chairman Neil Baker questioned the value of increasing them at a recent meeting, which voted them through.
He said: “It’s a difficult one but I think we have to use the maximum fine we are allowed as just one of the deterrents in our tool box because it sends out the right message.
“But I have also raised it with Kent Police to encourage them to take it seriously.
"This is not a victimless crime and there is significant cost to council tax payers and private property owners.
“The intelligence seems to show that there is a small number of offenders who are responsible for the majority of tagging and seem to be trying to outdo each other.”
The council is also offering a £500 reward for information that leads to the conviction of an offender.
But Cllr Michael Dixey (Lib Dem), who has been urging the council to take more proactive action against taggers, is not impressed.
“I suspect the reason they won’t say how many offenders have already been fined is because it’s probably none,” he said.
“We might as well increase the fine to the maximum allowed and it makes a good headline, but it’s pretty token stuff.
“And while some are suggesting making graffiti walls available, research conducted by the University of Kent found that it had no effect on reducing tagging, which is the real problem.”
The latest scourge of tagging defaced a beautiful, lottery-funded arts project.
Colourful murals had transformed the gloomy underpass between the Westgate Gardens and Toddler’s Cove.
But now the artwork has been scrawled over by taggers, much to the dismay of park supporters.
“It is very disappointing and frustrating because these murals were created to enhance an area previously blighted by ugly graffiti,” said Friends of the Westgate Parks trustee Dick Vane-Wright.
“The mural is protected with an anti-graffiti coating but it has happened before and having to keep cleaning it off is degrading it.”
The damage was caused just a week before South East in Bloom judges were due to visit the city.
Cllr Dixey has fired off an angry email to council chief executive Colin Carmichael demanding “robust action”.
It says: “Please - when are you going to get a grip on this?
"I suspect the reason they won't say how many offenders have already been fined is because it’s probably none" - Cllr Michael Dixey
“Despite repeated meetings over the last 12 months, things are getting even worse and the cost to the council soars.
“It is unacceptable and bringing the council’s reputation into disrepute.
Council spokesman Leo Whitlock says the authority shares residents’ anger over the mural graffiti, which Serco workers have now cleaned off.
“The taggers are costing council taxpayers, businesses and homeowners hundreds of thousands of pounds to clear up after them and the amount of graffiti in the district is affecting people’s quality of life while increasing the fear of crime,” he said.
“That is why we are pushing Kent Police to take this issue seriously and to move it up their agenda. At the end of the day, we do not have the power of arrest.”
Chief Inspector Mark Weller says graffiti “is taken seriously and we have had some good results in detecting crimes”.
He added that every report is investigated.