`Artist' drawn to crime is jailed for five years

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A notorious graffiti artist who defaced buildings, motorway bridges and even a bus was jailed yesterday for five years.

Sheffield Crown Court heard how Simon Sunderland, 23, daubed his nickname - Fista or Fisto - in public places where as many people as possible would see it. He claimed it was a form of art, but damage he caused between January 1992 and August 1993 cost more than pounds 7,000 to clear up.

Sunderland, of Worsbrough Bridge, Barnsley, admitted 14 specimen charges of criminal damage in 18 months in the Sheffield area.

The city was named Britain's graffiti capital by the Tidy Britain Group in 1994, thanks in part to Sunderland's work.

Judge Robert Moore told him: "You are one of the most prevalent and frequent spoilers of buildings in this area.

"It is an exceptional case which must be dealt with severely. I must deter you and others who commit these types of offences."

The court heard that Sunderland had received probation in the past for stealing spray cans and damaging a wall. Jeremy Baker, prosecuting, said Sunderland took pictures of his handiwork, and even had a map showing where he had made his mark.

David McGonigal, defending, said: "He saw it as a form of art. He wishes to channel his skills in a lawful way and plans to undertake a one-year course in fine art and then a degree course."

After the case a police spokeswoman said: "Most people do not regard indiscriminate damage of this kind as artistic and the police often have complaints that it makes communities look neglected and somehow more intimidating.

"Public and private property has to be protected from wanton vandalism and it's rewarding for our officers to see the courts taking it so seriously," the spokesman added.

Many of the slogans were huge and multi-coloured, scarring the walls of Sheffield Town Hall, a church, a petrol station and sewage works. One slogan said: "In a society based on image, greed, selfishness - we are the few who have broken the chains by exposing our art by any means necessary."