Responding to Graffiti

The Covid-19 crisis has led to a number of graffiti attacks on historic buildings and structures.

Graffiti disfigures historic buildings, sites and their settings; it may also encourage further attacks. Making graffiti on a public or private building or structure without the owner’s consent and statutory consent in the case of designated heritage assets is an act of criminal damage and is illegal. Offensive graffiti may constitute hate crime. Perpetrators of graffiti are liable to criminal proceedings.

If a graffiti attack is in progress

Stay safe

  • If you can do so safely, notify the police immediately by calling 999.
    More information on reporting a heritage crime
  • Do not attempt to challenge the perpetrator during a graffiti attack.
  • Do not take photographs or otherwise risk your own safety in any way.

After a graffiti incident

Record the graffiti with photographs

Photographs can provide important evidence for criminal prosecution and may be needed for insurance claims.

  • Record general views of the area and building, as well as details of the graffiti, the historic surface and its condition.
  • If possible, include a scale in the photograph (for example, an object such as a newspaper or water bottle).
  • Photograph any items, such as paint canisters or stencils, left at or near the scene by the perpetrator.

Secure any evidence

It may be possible to use forensic techniques, such as DNA or fingerprint analysis, to identify graffiti suspects.

  • Try to keep anything that the graffitist may have touched (such as door handles or gate latches) or any items left at the site (such as graffiti equipment, cigarette butts or drinks cans) dry and undisturbed until the police arrive.

Report the incident to the police

It is particularly important that graffiti that constitutes criminal damage to heritage assets or hate crime is reported to the police. A police report may be required to make an insurance claim.

  • Call your local police service on the non-emergency number 101 to report a graffiti attack.
  • You may also be able to report the attack online

Cover offensive graffiti

Offensive graffiti should be covered until it can be removed.

  • Drape hessian or opaque sheeting over the graffiti, but try to avoid attaching fixings into the historic fabric.
  • Alternatively, put up a free-standing barrier, such as a temporary mesh fencing panel, covered with opaque sheeting.

Check whether the building or structure is a protected historic building or site

Statutory consent may be needed for removing graffiti from designated heritage assets, so it is important to find out whether the graffiti site is protected.

  • You can search the heritage list for England to check whether the building or site is listed or is a scheduled monument.
  • Your local planning authority can also confirm whether the affected property is listed, scheduled or in a conservation area.

Check whether you need permission to remove graffiti

Removing graffiti from non-designated heritage buildings does not need any statutory consent. Removal from listed buildings, scheduled monuments and some buildings in conservation areas usually requires consent before work can begin. Check what permission you need.

Obtain professional advice

Some cleaning methods may cause permanent damage to historic building surfaces. Many general graffiti removal contractors have no understanding of historic substrates and may use techniques that are too aggressive.

Most graffiti removal can be carried out by a specialist cleaning contractor with experience in removing graffiti from historic buildings.

For buildings with complex architectural details or very sensitive materials, you may need more specialist advice from a conservation professional, such as an accredited architectural conservator, historic buildings surveyor or conservation architect.

Finding professional help

  • Do not attempt to remove graffiti yourself, as this may do more harm than good.
  • Before engaging a contractor, contact your insurer to check whether there are any special requirements, such as the need to use an accredited contractor.
  • Ask the contractor to verify their experience and skill by providing examples of similar work they have done on other historic structures.
  • The contractor should confirm that they will comply with any statutory requirements (for example, listed building or scheduled monument consent).
  • Ask the contractor to provide a risk assessment and method statement for the proposed cleaning work and the arrangements for protecting cleaning operatives, the general public and adjacent surfaces.
  • Beware of using free or subsidised local authority graffiti removal services: the contractors employed under such schemes are unlikely to be specialists in graffiti removal from historic buildings and you may be asked to sign a waiver that indemnifies the local authority against any liability for damage caused by graffiti removal.

Learn more

View our webinar on Graffiti on Historic Buildings: removal and prevention

This webinar talks about methods of removing graffiti from historic buildings, primarily masonry – stone, brick and concrete – as well as approaches to preventing it. This webinar will be of interest to anyone caring for historic buildings; including local authorities, building owners, practitioners.

For the best webinar experience, please use Google Chrome browser or download Adobe Connect.

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