Published: 06:00, 06 July 2019
| Updated: 13:32, 08 July 2019
Graffiti vandals have a “human right” to express themselves, says a fledgling city councillor.
Recently elected Canterbury Labour member Mel Dawkins made her bold claim during a debate about increasing fines for the offence.
Canterbury City Council hopes tougher penalties may act as a deterrent to tackle the issue, which has long-blighted the district.
But, quoting the Human Rights Act, Cllr Dawkins said: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. People doing graffiti are expressing themselves. In my opinion, it’s a form of art and the only way to solve it is to work together, not fines to stop everything.”
Cllr Dawkins, who represents St Stephen’s ward, was interrupted by community committee chairman Cllr Neil Baker, who retorted: “They don’t have the right to commit criminal damage.”
But she continued: “You can’t stop creativity and I don’t think increasing fines will be a successful deterrent. It’s squishing something that everyone has the right to do.”
The council was debating whether to increase fines for graffiti offences and fly-posting from £80 to £150, with no reduction for early payment, as currently exists.
It says fixed penalty notices are often more effective and less costly than the police taking offenders to court.
The authority also recently announced a reward of £500 for information that leads to the identification and conviction of an offender.
But Cllr Dawkins argues there is no proof hiking fines would act as a further deterrent - as council officers claimed in a report - and says increases should not be introduced “just to make us feel better”.
She quoted examples of authorities including London’s South Bank, where spaces for people to graffiti had been created.
Fellow Labour member Cllr Jean Butcher agreed, adding: “We are beating them with a stick but there is no carrot. We should be engaging with young people, but youth services have been cut.”
Retired police officer Cllr Ashley Clark said graffiti was a “plague on the district” affecting people’s quality of life.
“It needs to be dealt with robustly, and the fines will come back to us,” he said.
Cllr Peter Vickery-Jones (Con) added: “I served as a magistrate in the youth court for 25 years and I can tell you the one thing people need to know is that there are boundaries and they must have a duty of responsibility.”
The bid to increase fines was recommended for approval by the committee by eight votes to four. Another proposal to crack down on fly-tipping was also backed.
It would see residents fined £300 if they use an unlicensed waste collector to take away household rubbish, which is later found fly-tipped. Currently, the fine is £400, but reduces to £120 if paid early - a benefit which would no longer exist.
Both proposals have to win final approval from the council’s policy and resources committee at its next meeting on Wednesday (July 10).
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