THOUSANDS of graffiti tags are blighting the city with figures revealing the number of hits by vandals in Oxford has more than doubled in a year.

More than 2,100 incidents of graffiti were reported to Oxford City Council last year compared to 1,084 for 2014 and just 556 in 2013.

Hotspots where regular graffiti has been spotted include on bridges over Oxford Canal in North Oxford, the city centre, Botley Road and Abingdon Road.

Police have now enlisted the help of a graffiti expert to try to track down the culprits, while the council is exploring different tactics to try to eradicate the scourge, including creating more “legal walls” – where graffiti is allowed.

Council board member for a greener, cleaner Oxford John Tanner lambasted the “idiots” who kept “scribbling” on public and private property.

He said: “There is still too much graffiti in too many places and it’s costing the taxpayer a lot of money. It's a damn nuisance.

“There is always another idiot with a new tag wanting to deface public and private property.

“I hope in 2016 we will get on top of this a lot more.”

The city council spent £73,153 on cleaning graffiti in Oxford for the financial year 2014/15, which was £12,000 more than the year before.

The council’s Streetscene team is tasked with removing the eyesores around the city – among other street cleaning duties – but it faces constraints as officers are not allowed to tackle tags on private property without permission and payment.

It charges private property owners £27 an hour on top of £15 per square metre, or the owner can clean it up themselves – but they are under no obligation to do so.

It means despite the team’s best efforts, tags can often remain on the side of buildings indefinitely, and the council cannot do anything about it.

To try to stop the problem at the source, the local authority is working closely with Thames Valley Police to trace those responsible for the graffiti, with the force using an expert who can analyse the tags and work out if they had been sprayed by the same person.

But it is also attempting to look into why people turn into spray-can wielding vandals in the first place.

Police inspector for Oxford Andy Thompson said: “The education of the public and encouraging people to report it could be one reason the number of reports have gone up.

“We will keep prosecuting those who commit criminal offences, but at the same time we need to look at new ways of tackling the issue.

“We need to understand what the motivations and the reasons people commit this crime to get a balance.

“It’s extremely difficult to prosecute people, as we rely on catching people in the act, and usually it’s a quick scribble and then they are off.

“We are working with the city council and I have sat down with a few of people and tried to establish what the reasons and motivations are behind doing it.”

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  • Reporter Michael Race with graffiti in Bulwarks Lane and the footpath tunnel under Botley Road railway bridge

Jack Richens, chairman of the Oxford Wheels project, which hosts the only legal spray painting wall in the city within its Meadow Lane skatepark, said having more free walls would help reduce the issue of graffiti.

He added: “You cannot fully eliminate tagging. The best way to reduce it is to get their peers who are artists on legal walls to pass on the message and also by providing legal walls.”

The area often hosts events where artists come from all over the country to paint.

Mr Richens added: “We have been working with Andy Thompson and the council to try to find places that could be used to generate good pieces of art.”

He said places like towpaths and bridges could become legal places for people to practise before using more public legal walls.

Mr Tanner added: “I would like to see more murals in Oxford rather than these useless scribbles. We are looking to find places that could become areas of public art.”


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  • Mark Davies, right, and Tom Hassall at Isis Lock which has been daubed with graffiti again

Tom Hassall, who lives near blighted area Isis Lock, regularly teams up with residents to clean graffiti on the Oxford Canal towpath as those responsible for the waterway do not have the staff to clean it off.

Archaeologist Mr Hassall, 72, and neighbours of Rewley Park got so fed up with the graffiti they took matters into their own hands.

He added: “The problem when we reported it to the council was that they do not clean it off private property. The Canal and River Trust said it didn’t have the manpower so we had to clean it off ourselves.

“I’ve stopped reporting graffiti because nothing will be done by the council on private property and I honestly do not know what the answer is.

“It’s a beautiful area and these people keep defacing it, it’s just awful.”

Canal and River Trust spokeswoman Sarah Rudy confirmed the trust needed help from residents to tackle the issue.

Police inspector for Oxford Andy Thompson said the new approach was to educate and consult with community members to get their views on how best to tackle the issue, with the current tactics leaving people going “round in circles”.

He added the public wanted to see culprits clean the mess off the walls through community orders.


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One of most prolific graffiti tags that plagued Oxford in recent years was ‘Soak’.

Charlie Silver, the man behind the tag, was jailed for 10 weeks in August after admitting eight counts of criminal damage across the city centre and north Oxford costing an estimated £1,610.

It marked the first jail term for graffiti vandalism in the city and Inspector Andy Thompson said the prison sentence sent out a strong message to vandals that they will not just get a slap on the wrist for damaging property.

Silver, 24 of no fixed abode, was arrested with a rucksack full of marker pens, paint and spray paint in November 2014, as well as pieces of paper with his trademark ‘Soak’ tag.

It took officers months to link him to the eight instances of criminal damage across the city, using a graffiti expert to study the tag and then gather evidence to show they were painted by the same artist.


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Oxford City Council is responsible for the removal of graffiti from properties such as shops, shop shutters, garages, flats, houses, parks, cemeteries and bus shelters.

The council aims to remove offensive graffiti on areas that it is responsible for within one working day.

Other graffiti tags on council-owned buildings are usually removed within ten working days.

The council also offers the same service to private property owners, but charge £27 an hour on top of £15 per square metre for the removal of graffiti. Owners are under no obligation to take up this service.

Tags on telephone boxes need to be reported to BT, on post boxes to Royal Mail, and on road signs, bollards, street lights, traffic lights or road bridges people need to contact Oxfordshire County Council.

To report graffiti to the city council visit