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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Deadly dangers for graffiti 'taggers'

By Nigel Pankhurst
BBC News

Daniel Elgar and Bradley Chapman were killed by a Tube train after spraying graffiti at a rail depot. Their deaths, recorded as accidental at an inquest this week, highlight that along with the buzz comes a fatal danger for the "taggers".

Tracks at Barking station
Daniel Elgar and Bradley Chapman were killed near Barking station

Daniel Elgar and Bradley Chapman, both of Essex, had been getting their kicks by spraying graffiti at a London Underground depot.

However, their activity was brought to an abrupt halt when they were spotted by security guards patrolling the site in Barking, east London.

Events took a deadly turn as the pair made their way across the electrified tracks late at night in January this year.

Mr Elgar, 19, of Southend, and Mr Chapman, 21, of Grays, found themselves in the path of a District Line train which hit them. They were pronounced dead at the scene.

The incident shows the potential for tragedy that goes with seeking thrills on the railways.

'Reckless'

Richard Sen provides an insight into the thinking of the graffiti sprayers - or taggers as they are known - as he was one himself when he was a teenager.

Mr Sen, now 39, from east London, says he realised the dangers but does not regret his past

Most of the time you will be all right but if something goes wrong it can be deadly
Richard Sen
Former tagger

"There's a danger there, everyone knows however long you've been doing it," he said.

"The danger is always there but at that age you always think you're invincible. We were always quite careful about where we stepped and aware when trains were coming.

"The dangers are obvious but you don't think about it every time you do it. You just get on with it and be careful but it is pretty reckless behaviour.

"If you're careful, most of the time you will be all right but if something goes wrong it can be deadly."

Bus cameras

An initiative on London's buses has shown success at targeting criminal damage - including graffiti - on public transport.

Daniel Elgar
Daniel Elgar lost his life when he was struck by a Tube train

Operation BusTag, utilising Transport for London's (TfL) vast network of CCTV cameras on the vehicles, has seen arrest rates triple to about 30% since it started in 2004.

Since the end of 2005 every one of London's 8,000 buses has CCTV fitted - meaning there are up to 60,000 cameras on routes across the capital.

High-quality images from the devices can be collected by the Metropolitan Police's Transport Operational Command Unit.

These pictures are distributed to borough police forces and often appear in local newspapers.

Conviction rates now stand at 90% but graffiti still costs the bus companies 10m a year.

A TfL spokeswoman said: "One of the major complaints of bus passengers has been graffiti.

"It creates an intimidating atmosphere. Responding to that and with the addition of CCTV, Operation BusTag is a way of using that CCTV to target low-level crime but one which really affects our passengers.

Particularly on the Underground there's a third rail which can kill
Diana Lucas
Rail Safety and Standards Board

"It's one of those crimes that increases the fear of crime.

"Operation BusTag has been very effective, but these crimes are still an issue and one we are going to tackle."

Last month, TfL obtained its first anti-social behaviour order (Asbo) against a tagger.

Billy Murrell, 17, from Plumstead, south-east London, was banned for three years from the top deck of a bus anywhere in the country, and from carrying marker pens or sharp instruments on public transport.

Stay away

Diana Lucas from industry body the Rail Safety and Standards Board says risks lurk on all railways, whether on the Tube or on the national network.

"The dangers are quite significant. You're putting yourself at risk," she said.

Richard Sen (Pic: Illicit Recordings)
Former tagger Richard Sen urges people to be aware of the risks

"With graffiti, the rail company has to clear up the mess that they make and it has a effect on the perception of crime.

"Particularly on the Underground there's a third rail which can kill.

"It's not a playground and we would actively encourage people to act in a responsible way around the railways.

"They're not only putting themselves at risk, they're putting other people at risk.

"Our advice is to stay away from railways unless you're using it for the purpose it's there for."

'Really sad'

She said the rail industry had done a lot of work with initiatives such as No Messin' and Trackoff.

No Messin' aims to provide activities for young people as an alternative to being on the tracks, while Trackoff gives community leaders and teachers the resources to educate about the dangers.

For Mr Sen, he believes the taggers must be aware of what they are getting themselves into.

"It's quite exciting for people to break into train yards and stuff but if they're going to do it they've got to be careful," he said.

"You have got to be aware at all times and be very, very careful."

On the Barking deaths, he said: "It's just really sad for something like this to happen to kids of this age."

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