Norwich is hit by graffiti menace

Norwich's reputation as a fine city is being threatened by a new menace – that was the warning today as the true scale of graffiti in the city centre emerged.

A snapshot Evening News survey found more than 20 cases of graffiti tags in five different locations around Norwich including the underpass beneath St Stephen's Street roundabout, near Westlegate House in the city centre and around Anglia Square.

Council officials say more than �1m is spent every year on cleaning the streets of Norwich, which includes tackling graffiti, with City Hall receiving up to 500 reports a year.

Steve Morphew, leader of the city council, said: 'A lot of graffiti is not just an eyesore but does intimidate and can be threatening.

'There's a place for everything and some graffiti art in the right place is excellent and welcome but we don't want people to be defacing our city and ruining our reputation.

'Anyone who sees graffiti should report it and that will help us clean it up as soon as possible.'

Police and the city council work together to tackle graffiti.

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Anyone caught committing an offence is given an �80 on-the-spot fine or arrested and given a criminal record.

The city council removes graffiti from council property and public areas but cannot clean up privately-owned buildings.

Offensive or racist graffiti will be dealt with within 24 hours of being reported, usually on the same day. All other graffiti is removed within 14 days of the report being received.

A City Hall spokesman said: 'Removing graffiti around the city costs a significant amount each year – money that could be spent making improvements to services.

'It is disappointing that some people feel the need to spoil the city for everyone else by carrying out illegal graffiti on public and private property, especially when we provide areas which we allow people to do this legally.

'We would encourage anyone who witnesses graffiti being carried out to call either the council or the police so that the case can be fully investigated.

'Please remember that graffiti is an illegal activity, so for your safety do not approach anyone you see offending.'

PC Peter Davison, from Norfolk police's Norwich operational partnership team, said the police and partner authorities were currently developing a graffiti database to speed up the exchange of information.

He said: 'Graffiti is an eyesore and costs a significant amount of money to get it removed. Restorative justice has been used in several cases where offenders have been made to clear up their mess to make amends but those responsible also face being issued with an �80 on-the-spot fine or even arrest and a criminal record.

'We are aware of a number of 'tags', including the SHOOK tag, which have appeared around our city in the last few months.

'Somebody knows who is doing this. I urge them to tell us.'

Although a vast amount of graffiti has been found in and around the city, it has been said that the number of incidents has reduced in recent years. This has been put down to dedicated graffiti walls. These include the old TSO office building at the corner of Botolph Street and St Crispin's Road where graffiti is encouraged and permitted.

There are also schemes where councillors are provided with green paint so they can get involved with painting green utilities boxes when they are defaced.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'It's a real shame to cause distress to other people and that's what graffiti often does, but there are places to put creative energy to a good community cause. I strongly urge people to do this instead of causing damage to property.'

Norwich South MP Simon Wright added: 'It's really important for authorities to take a zero tolerance approach to graffiti but it's also important for residents to do their bit by reporting problems as they occur.'

Derek James, sheriff of Norwich, said he hoped something positive would be done to bring the St Stephen's Street underpass back to its former glory.

Back in 2004, the well-used subway was transformed into a colourful mural by art and design students from Norwich City College.

'We are never going to win the 'war' against graffiti artists but those who are more than just obscene scribblers need to be encouraged to prove their talents - and make the rest of us admire their work,' said Mr James.

'Several people have complained to me about the disgraceful condition of the St Stephen's subway - an ideal place where talented graffiti artists could prove they can illustrate the walls with style.

'Perhaps we could see a Norwich School of Graffiti Artists in the future which would drive the tasteless taggers out of town.'

Anyone who sees graffiti should report it to the council by calling 0344 980 3333 or Norfolk police on 0845 456 4567.

Additional reporting by Jamil Benmehidi, Kerry Brady, Simon Butcher, Amy Collins and Matthew Mayes