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Rage against the machine

Why motivates the vandal to attack infrastructure and how can it be protected?

LATEST HOME Office gures show that criminal damage is the third most common crime in England and Wales, accounting for 21% of reported crime. And recently infrastructure has been a prime target for vandals.

Earlier this month vandals took a hacksaw to the steel cables of a footbridge over the M60 (NCE 11 January), and in Lewes, east Sussex, protestors have attacked parking metres causing an estimated £300,000 of damage. And these events are not unusual; reports of bricks thrown off motorway bridges and incidents on railway lines are often in the news.

So why is infrastructure such a target? Professor of psychology Cary Cooper from Lancaster University says that vandals may gain a sense of power from carrying out their attacks, relishing the idea that they are the only person who knows the cause of the damage.

Professor Cooper identies three other possible reasons:

'The object will represent something the person may dislike - for whatever reason.

They have a lot of aggressive feelings that they take out on an object that has nothing to do with anything.

They may be making a statement because they feel insignicant.' The north of England has the highest hit rate for attacks. The average number of incidents in the UK is 22 recorded offences per 1,000 people, but in the area under the control of the Cleveland Police Authority this figure is 34 per 1,000 - more than 50% above the national average.

South Yorkshire is close behind with 32 per 1,000 people and Merseyside has 31 per 1,000. Greater Manchester and Nottinghamshire follow with 30 per 1,000. This compares with London where the rate is a surprising 16 in 1,000. Wiltshire reports the lowest gures at 15 offences per 1,000 people.

So is there a cure? Professor Cooper says that instilling civic pride could make a real difference - give cities in need of a facelift something that citizens can feel proud of.

For example, Middlesbrough is long overdue the 250ha, £500M Midhaven development that will transform the run-down dockyard area into a modern, vibrant part of the city. Once complete, vandalism should drop. This has been borne out by the experience of Newcastle, Birmingham and parts of London and Manchester.

In the meantime, the Highways Agency has no specic policy for dealing with vandalism, but indicated that CCTV could be used in future to monitor infrastructure under threat.

The cost of vandalism

Two men were hit and killed by a tube train while spraying grafti in east London last week.

Vandals in Lancashire last week caused £1M of damage by setting fire to refuse trucks.

Pre-teen vandals toppled and sprayed grafti on 20 front walls, pillars and fences in York last weekend.

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