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Volunteer says lockdown has seen a 10-fold increase in vandalism but police figures show criminal damage is down

Have you noticed an increase in vandalism where you live?

You're not alone, with one volunteer saying reports had increased 10 fold during the pandemic - but police figures actually reveal a sharp decline.

Graffiti is on the rise in Folkestone, says the man who helps keep it clean. Picture: Mary Lawes
Graffiti is on the rise in Folkestone, says the man who helps keep it clean. Picture: Mary Lawes

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It has now been 12 months since Kent, and the rest of the UK, was plunged into a national lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then more of us have spent longer at home, exploring our communities and perhaps taking notice of anti-social behaviour more than we did before.

People have complained about a rise in graffiti, fly-tipping, arson, damage to property and dog mess being left behind.

This week, vandals attacked Erith & Belvedere Football Club and even painted a swastika on the pitch.

Director Paul Springett said of the incident: “I am not bothered about the vandalism, it is the message and the symbol and what it’s all about, it is not nice to see."

Graffiti was also scrawled across Wincheap in Canterbury last year, just days after residents and council workers scrubbed off more than 100 tags.

An appeal was also launched in October after tags were seen added to a wall in Margate.

And a month later, a not-yet-debuted train was covered in graffiti in an overnight attack in Sandwich.

Peter Phillips is the manager of the Folkestone Town Sprucer project, which sees volunteers take to the streets daily to help keep the town tidy and repair damages.

The team regularly remove tags and graffiti from public spaces, private property and even churches.

Mr Phillips said: "Vandalism has increased 10 fold since lockdown.

The new Pacer unit was daubed with graffiti at East Kent Railway in Sheperdswell, near Sandwich
The new Pacer unit was daubed with graffiti at East Kent Railway in Sheperdswell, near Sandwich

"East Folkestone has suffered the worst of it. It’s like the broken window effect - one tag, then two, all of a sudden everywhere is a mess.

"They come out at night thinking they won’t get caught.

"The council are trying to get rid of it.

"Due to weather conditions we can’t paint over most of the tags."

Mr Phillips has previously spoken out about the rise of graffiti in Folkestone.

The vandalism at Faversham Strike Force's ground
The vandalism at Faversham Strike Force's ground

He said: "The sprucing volunteers, jobseekers and Veolia are doing their best to keep Folkestone clean and tidy, and all it takes is a handful of yobs to make our town look bad."

But he says the issues are not isolated to graffiti alone.

He has also noticed other forms of vandalism is on the rise.

He said: "Kids' park areas, for instance, seating equipment has been broken and set on fire.

"The new craze is making a fire and throwing aerosols on it.

"Then there is the usual breaking glass in the parks, bottles, dog mess everywhere and fly tipping."

Last month yobs smashed down goal posts and fencing, and damaged the pitch and seating benches at Faversham Strike Force FC.

"This is a real kick in the teeth for everyone who puts so much time and effort into nurturing this club," said furious club manager Gary Axford.

"It will be the taxpayers of Swale who will ultimately foot the bill for the damaged posts which could run into thousands of pounds."

It was a similar situation at Lordswood Football Club, when vandals ripped up fences and netting and damaged the dug-outs.

The damage was expected to set the club back £2,000.

In January, cars in Canterbury were left covered with spray paint and had their windows smashed in a mindless vandalism spree.

Police appealed for information about the damage.

And around 30 cars were damaged during an attack in Wye in August last year.

In Ashford, bins were set on fire, heavily graffitied and even thrown into a river amid a spate of vandalism.

But Kent Police's figures paint a different picture - while there were 2,772 reports of criminal damage in the first two months of 2021, this was actually 20% down on the same period last year.

Superintendent Peter Steenhuis said: "We do not underestimate the impact that criminal damage has on both individuals and communities and work closely with partner agencies to tackle the issue.

"Between 1 January and 28 February 2021 the county saw a 20% reduction in reports of criminal damage with 2,772 reports received compared to 3,460 over the same period the previous year.

"This equates to 688 fewer crimes."

But there may be a simple explanation for that drop.

"The global pandemic has changed the lives of many and this is reflected in crime trends," he added.

The lockdown led to a change in our habits with more people staying at home and bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities closed.

"Ultimately this has resulted in fewer incidents of alcohol fuelled disorder which would often result in property being damaged," he added.

"With the gradual reopening of venues and, hopefully, a return to normality we will continue to work with partner agencies to tackle the issue of criminal damage."

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