Tagger evades $30,000 clean-up bill

Last updated 05:00 03/09/2012
graffiti
VANDALISM: Benjamin Stewart pleaded guilty to 21 charges of causing intentional damage by spray-painting graffiti.

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Auckland Council has dropped a groundbreaking bid to recover more than $30,000 in graffiti clean-up costs from a notorious tagger after he filed for a form of bankruptcy.

But before he used his financial position to dodge the bill Benjamin Stewart claimed his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder was to blame.

In September 2009 Stewart pleaded guilty to 21 charges of causing intentional damage by spray-painting graffiti.

The charges related to more than 500 tags with the word "TURPS" and 14 tags of "MUKUS".

The tags were scrawled on buildings around Auckland between July 2008 and May 2010.

Stewart was sentenced to community work and ordered to pay $500 reparation. Costs of $2100 had been sought but the then Auckland City Council decided to pursue a claim for extra costs in July 2010.

When the claim was laid it was believed to be the first such case in New Zealand.

The council sought $33,394, the total cost Civil Contractors Limited spent cleaning up the 551 tags.  

In July last year the case was adjourned when Stewart showed up to court without a lawyer.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show that Stewart entered into the No-Asset Procedure - a form of bankruptcy which lasts for 12 months - at the end of last year.

A spokesperson for the Auckland Council said that prevented the council, as a creditor, from pursuing the debt.

In the documents Stewart claims that he "may be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the symptoms of which can involve graffiti vandalism".

Stewart never backed up his claims with medical evidence.

He also claimed that some of the tags may not have been his and that council contractors had not used the cheapest method possible to remove them.

"The Auckland City Council website states that a home owner can... remove tags using methylated spirits, turps, paint stripper, dishwashing liquid, branded graffiti removal products or oven cleaner. If the Auckland City Council used any of these recommended methods I am sure the total removal costs incurred would have been significantly reduced."

The news of Stewart's bankruptcy comes after council recently launched a city wide graffiti prevention plan.

The Auckland Graffiti Vandalism Prevention Plan was launched by Mayor Len Brown in July and included 24-hour removal targets for graffiti and just two hours targets for tags deemed offensive, and an education programme.

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The plan also focussed on graffiti prevention through its 'Adopt-a-spot' scheme where volunteers are encouraged to adopt an area in their neighbourhood to keep graffiti free.

- Auckland Now

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