One man’s war on illegal graffiti in Northamptonshire

PCSO Phil Wane.
PCSO Phil Wane.

Show me a town with no graffiti, and I’ll show you evidence that Elvis Presley is still alive and kicking.

It’s everywhere – daubed on houses, underpasses, even on bridges – and is something that is never, ever, going to be completely eradicated.

Some youngsters risk their lives to graffiti in dangerous places, some just feet from high-speed trains.

Some youngsters risk their lives to graffiti in dangerous places, some just feet from high-speed trains.

But what it can be is controlled, and that’s what Northamptonshire Police PCSO Phil Wane has been working on since 2011.

He runs the one-man band Operation Illustration, which tries to track down those illegally ‘tagging’ property by using the hashtag #NameThatTag on social media.

PCSO Wane feels that creating spaces for youngsters to express themselves with spray paint out of town will reduce the amount of crime, and is something he would like to see rolled out across the county.

He said: “There’s an art space in Daventry on the back of the police station wall and that’s gone down really well.

A tag outside Kettering Town's old Rockingham Road ground.

A tag outside Kettering Town's old Rockingham Road ground.

“There’s about 30 kids who maintain it and I would love to see it replicated across the county but I need support.

“That’s down to individual councils and isn’t something I have any power over.

“We don’t call them vandals or damagers, we call them writers and that’s important.

“A lot of them are practising their artwork but they need somewhere to do so that isn’t somebody else’s property.

One offender left his name on this act of graffiti near Redhill Grange in Wellingborough.

One offender left his name on this act of graffiti near Redhill Grange in Wellingborough.

“Some of them just like to tag another area to say they’ve been there.

“Some just get a buzz out of doing it but wouldn’t it be nice if there was somewhere to do it without offending others?

“Towns would be much cleaner and more appealing if youngsters didn’t have to do it where they are now.”

The Northants Telegraph was taken on a tour of graffiti hotspots in north Northamptonshire to highlight the battle faced, visiting Kettering, Wellingborough, Little Irchester and Irthlingborough.

PCSO Wane has taken more than 10,000 pictures of graffiti since the launch of Operation Illustration.

PCSO Wane has taken more than 10,000 pictures of graffiti since the launch of Operation Illustration.

Some of the lengths that the offenders go to are astonishing, with graffiti found on bridges over major roads and next to train tracks.

PCSO Wane added: “There’s quite a prolific tagger in Kettering who goes by the name of ISC who must have been metres away from falling on to the A14 to do one of his.

“I’ve seen another where they were probably only about six feet away from high-speed trains, it’s so dangerous.

“Wellingborough is probably one of the worst offending areas, the underpasses are an absolute state.

“Many of them aren’t used that often so there’s nobody to disturb them and there’s a lot of racial graffiti, which in 2016 should be an alien concept.

“If you report anything that’s deemed as offensive to your council it must be removed within 24 hours.

The ISC tag just metres away from the A14.

The ISC tag just metres away from the A14.

“If I could pinpoint one area I’d target the underpass linking the Queensway to Park Farm but it’s like painting Sydney Harbour Bridge – once you’ve finished you’d need to start again.”

Since the operation’s launch, PCSO Wane has taken more than 10,000 images of graffiti.

Illegal graffiti costs the country £1bn a year, with damage to a train carriage costing upwards of £20,000 to repair.

He added: “There haven’t been as many arrests as I’d like but we’re getting somewhere and the Twitter campaign gets lots of good responses.

“A lot of the offenders are made to clean it up themselves in public, which is as good a deterrent as any and keeps them out of the criminal system.

“It’s difficult to catch someone unless we actually see them doing it but once we’ve got them we can often pin them to others.

“I’ve got an eye for it and could probably trail tags all the way from Rockingham Road to Tesco in Kettering.

“My favourite ones are when they put their names on it – it makes my job easier!”

To follow PSCO Wane’s battle against illegal graffiti, follow @OP_ILLUSTRATION on Twitter.

Graffiti near Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

Graffiti near Nene Park in Irthlingborough.

A tag near Booker in Kettering.

A tag near Booker in Kettering.