Glass graffiti craze could halt trains

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The Independent Online

An epidemic of glass graffiti, where vandals use hardened cutters to scratch windows, has become so bad that some train operators are considering withdrawing late night services.

An epidemic of glass graffiti, where vandals use hardened cutters to scratch windows, has become so bad that some train operators are considering withdrawing late night services.

Buses, trains and other public places with large windows are being forced to replace them at the cost of thousands of pounds because of the craze for scratching names or "tags".

Special officers are being deployed to deter the graffiti gangs. British Transport police and Connex are also running a pilot scheme on specific train routes where video cameras are installed in carriages to catch offenders on film.

In London alone, the annual bill for removing graffiti has risen to £8m, a figure that includes the cost of deterring etchers. The bill has more than doubled in the past six years with London Underground the biggest victim. It spends £2.5m a year on fitting security measures to deter vandals and prevent graffiti.

The success of new technology such as anti-graffiti paint, chemical cleaners and high-pressure hoses means cans of spray paint are no longer an effective weapon in the armoury of the vandal.

Better CCTV, lighting and alarms also mean that vandals find that there is too great a risk of arrest if they spend hours spray painting large pieces of graffiti onto sides of train carriages. Instead, they find sitting in a train seat or on a bus with a glass cutter and etching onto the glass a less risky strategy.

One solution to deter glass graffiti artists is to install Perspex panes in windows. Telephone boxes and some station waiting rooms have already been made etching-proof. However, this technique is not possible in train carriages because the material is not strong enough to meet safety requirements.

London Underground's policy is to replace the window when one third is coverede by etchings or graffiti.

British Transport Police say etchers are given a warning for a first-time offence, then a reprimand or a court appearance. For a third offence, criminals are sent to court. They are also sending officers into schools to teach children how the community is damaged by the behaviour of glass vandals.

"We tell then they're harming their own community." said Simon Lubin, a spokesman for British Transport Police . "It's their families who use the trains and in the end the people who pay the fares pay for this.

"The nature of graffiti has changed and moved away from that sub-culture where people would travel long distances to target hard-to-reach places. This window etching is much easier."

* Last month, an inquest heard how a 15-year-old boy died after leaping from a moving train in panic, having been accused of etching on a train window. Christopher Wattenbach, from Tonbridge, Kent, was found dying near the track on 11 September, shortly after a guard startled the teenager who appeared to have been scratching on the glass.

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