Shameful spate of attacks on Brighton Street Artists murals

Talentless taggers have vandalised much-admired murals over recent months by daubing their scribbles and throw-ups on commissioned Brighton Street Art.

A legally commissioned mural In Trafalgar Lane by Glimmer Twin, was delivered a jaw dropping insult when a pigs head and the word vermin was added to it, along with the promotion of an 11/08/2023 Street Art exhibition at London Gallery Camden Open Art Gallery (COAG). 

Trafalgar Place renowned Glimmer Twins commissioned Street Art, vandalised by someone promoting a London Based exhibition at Camden Art Open Gallery (COAG)
11/08/2023 ‘art event’ Ad-diction
The same culprit destroyed a Brighton events’ poster campaign to promote the London-based open art event. Why?

BRAT contacted the COAG Gallery owner who swiftly and apologetically responded. The Gallery did not sanction the damage nor was the culprit known to them said Gallery director Finn Brewster Doherty, we would never condone such action.

The Gallery offered to re-commission Sean Lyons, Glimmer Twin to repair the damaged work. Final resolution is left between the two parties to conclude.  

In Brighton, we are sadly used to petty, talentless taggers daubing their pointless scribbles on any clean wall, street furniture, hoardings, retail outlets and office buildings awaiting new tenants.  

We are not used to established street artist’s commissioned works being jealously attacked by taggers 

Sean Lyons said “Our work rarely gets touched, it’s upsetting if it does and would likely be an adolescent tagger not understanding the unspoken respect code between talented street artists”

Sussex Homeless Support Charity trailer mural vandalised 

August 9th, 2023 saw a senseless criminal attack on the Postman Art mural that adorns the entire side of the Homeless Support Custom Trailer

Jim Deans the Charity CEO is furious. He stated on the organisation’s Facebook page “It’s straightforward criminal damage, it’s going to cost the charity to remove it or have it replaced.”

Postman’s Art is renowned throughout the City, why on earth a talentless tagger would destroy such a renowned artist’s work let alone an artwork on a Homeless Charity support vehicle? 

There are no words, although I am sure Jim Dean has a few. If the culprit is identified, he will be made to clean it off or pay for the damage.

St. Ann’s Street, Costa Coffee new murals hit twice since completed three months ago

Guy Favela’s newly completed mural on St.Ann’s Street on the sidewall of Costa Coffee, London Road was hit by publically hated tagger, Johnny Crew just two days after completion – his crew tag across the mouth of the mural was rapidly scrubbed out again by the artist. 

Months later another vandal has been causing havoc with his F tag hitting Guy Favela’s mural, Churches, and homes causing £000’s of damage.

Pretty Community Art Wall on Upper Lewes Road curated by Brighton Street Artists, senselessly tagged

Young adult taggers damage children’s Community Wall, Upper Lewes Road

This mural on Upper Lewes Road was curated for the Council with some of Brighton’s best street artists.  It’s not the first time it has been damaged by pointless vandals. 

The first time a member of the public caught the culprit in action and filmed him. A man in his late 40s with spray cans in his rucksack wilfully destroying other artists’ work, one can only assume in a fit of envy.  

Quite why this bunch stooped so low as to ruin established Street Artists’ community mural for children is unfathomable.

Why do taggers who have no or little artistic talent themselves cause destruction to a talented artist’s work?

Perhaps they are bored youngsters playing up for the sake of it or to be part of a Brighton culture or misguided in their belief that they will become known for their scribbled tagger name? 

Sadly, tagging is not just a past time of bored youngsters, as evidenced by the 45-year-old Crew who is disliked by both taggers and non-taggers and other video evidence that has shown 50 year olds who have not out-grown vandalising property with their scribbles. 

The former respect among taggers was never to spoil others’ work. Currently, that code of honour seems to have fallen by the wayside. 

Brighton and Hove is suffering an unprecedented wave of graffiti vandalism, but residents are fighting back.

by Julia Basnett

Resident and business groups have recently emerged to both support and wake-up the Council into identifying taggers and take stronger action against vandals by issuing fines and banning them from the City, where feasible. These groups include BRAT ‘Business and Residents Against Tagging’ (see – and this article). Another is Graffiti Go

Community Action 

I offer part-time support to Russell Martin Foundation (RMF) youth project called Extra Time based at Trinity Hall, Carlton Hill and as a gardener for White Street Community Garden (WSCG) I have run planting out sessions with young people tending a patch in the community garden. 

The WSCG is on Edward Street and faces Kebbell Lodge on the opposite side. We became aware that Lodge residents were blighted by tagging on an overlooking wall as well as disturbed by persons gathering in the secluded space next to the tagged wall. 

Lodge Resident pensioner Wendy Pearson, was regularly kept awake by late night disturbances outside her ground floor flat. She said ‘the heavily tagged wall was so depressing but made even worse by a communal bin that enabled anti-social people to congregate unseen”.

We decided to take positive community action. 

On May 25th, in collaboration with Kebble Lodge tenants; the Russell Martin Foundation (RMF) and the White Street Community Garden (WSCG); Adrian Hart and myself along with a team of young people painted over the tagging. 

The council’s Environmental Enforcement team supported the initiative by supplying paint, brushes and rollers. 

Adrian Hart is a founder of the garden and a member of BRAT. 

Young people from the Russell Martin Foundation Extra Time programme prepare to paint over tagging

Additionally, members of WSCG then fitted a trellis onto the wall, donated by B & Q. 

We plan to take further action to grow plants up the trellis to improve the aesthetics of the entrance to Kebble Lodge for all residents and passers-by and to deter tagging vandalism.

RMF Youngsters hard at work painting over the ugly tags showing great community spirit.

This is just one example of how a community can pull together to take positive action and improve lives, the environment and residents well being. 

Working with members of BRAT and other organisations, residents and businesses can use creativity and positive actions to help clean up our city. And hopefully our paid Enforcement Officers and police officers will focus attention on enforcing the law and vastly reducing the systematic vandalism of our city. 

ITV News

BRAT was featured on ITV news, highlighting the issue of tagging in the Brighton area.

Wide Awake Tagger, Fast Asleep Council

On Saturday March 18th, the Brighton Argus gave front-page space to the vandalism caused by prolific tagger John McMillan, who tags as ‘Crew’, ‘Crew Connection’ and ‘Johnny Crew’. His various tags have blighted the city stretching from Queen’s Park to Kemptown, North Laine to the city centre and elsewhere without regard to businesses, iconic public buildings, private houses, street furniture and so forth.  This is all in the name of his #guerillaadvertising hash tag and his Video Blog, which largely comprises 30-second videos of self-indulgent musings.

His one-man crusade to put the name Johnny Crew ‘out-there’ has caused damage to public and private property likely to cost thousands of pounds – damage that businesses, council tax payers and the public purse will have to rectify.

Screengrabs from McMillan’s social media Check out his Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Other than his spray-can vandalism, which is indefensible, I have nothing against McMillan. His short bursts of ‘selfie’ phone camera video give the impression of an affable, albeit troubled, individual who craves engagement with the world around him. His videos can seem self-absorbed and at times narcissistic. At other times he mimics a TV news approach as he encounters police incidents or other street-life situations. Looking at his Crew Connection TV YouTube channel, a film shot four years ago reveals a very different persona. McMillan reflects on his addiction to prescription drugs and his bumpy road to recovery. Here, his desire to connect with others who have battled addiction and depression seems completely genuine.

Lately, he has begun 30/40 minute long live streaming commentaries via Facebook. The Argus article states: “As part of his ‘coaching’ of the people he meets, he encourages others not to ‘have neglect spread into your life’ and to ‘sort yourself out’”.

(Above) Front Page and feature story, Saturday March 18th 2023.

According to the Argus, McMillan says that he is unapologetic as he believes his tags have encouraged ‘about 300 people’ to reach out to him and talk openly about mental health. If McMillan really said this, he was surely joking with the reporter? It’s delusional to imagine that on sight of a ‘Crew’ or ‘Google Johnny Crew’ tag, people make contact to request his life coaching services.

McMillan claims to have recently been confronted by a council enforcement officer, as quoted:

“I received a call from a council officer a few weeks ago. He said the officer discussed the possibility of an ‘unofficial community service order’, which would see him go around the city, filming himself removing some of his tags and posting it online on his various social channels.

However, John said: ‘I told the guy from the council my story and he said he wasn’t going to take it any further and that he would get back to me.’”

Left: McMillan (a picture posted on his social media); right: a collection of his tags from early 2023.

Doubtless, there’s a powerful human story to tell about John McMillan. The Argus reporter evidently wanted to acknowledge that. My issue with extending sympathy and understanding in this instance is the tacit acceptance of his vandalism (there are, after all, few examples of petty criminality and anti-social behaviour that don’t invoke a backstory of this sort). Despite the Argus citing McMillan as having ceased his tagging a year ago (itself nonsense given his winter tagging spree), even in the weeks since this article appeared, fresh Crew tags have also appeared.

‘Crew’ tags from April 2023

The Crew tagging spree continues with impunity. Residents and businesses have become increasingly frustrated at the indifference of the council and police enforcement officers whose appalling failure to prosecute an identifiable, self-confessed vandal has caused us thousands of pounds worth of damage. It is unfathomable.

And yet the same council team have the audacity to issue shop owners with letters threatening fines if they don’t remove graffiti. These are the shop owners who diligently remove tagging, only to find it reappearing a few days later. As reported in Sussex Live and national media, one letter to a shopkeeper from the council states: “Your conduct is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those living in the locality and your conduct is unreasonable”.

“Your conduct”!!! How can a council whose environmental enforcement officers are taking zero action against a known vandal issue threats to innocent businesses for not removing the acts of crime within 28 days! It simply does not make any sense.

Both the police and the council enforcement teams knew about McMillan as far back as September 2022 but took absolutely no action. In the case of the council enforcement team, an officer had hard proof and complaints from multiple residents about the Crew tags and his bragging on social media. The council team, paid to follow up on evidence provided, were issued with dozens of photos and video evidence, social media proof and so forth, delivered to them gift-wrapped.

However, it has transpired that the environmental enforcement team were absent from duty, off on extended sick leave, phones deactivated, emails neither monitored nor diverted, tasks not covered – for weeks on end – and hence all the ‘unpaid’ work of council tax paying residents went into an abyss. Likewise the 101 police reporting service results only in data gathering and an issue of a crime reference number swiftly followed by a ‘no further action’ letter. We all pay for that too. So, as law-abiding residents and businesses, we are all paying for vandalism clean up through council tax and for enforcement officers’ salaries despite the fact they are not even at work or following up on evidence painstakingly provided.

Good citizens putting their own time into goodwill acts (gathering evidence, painting out tags) in order to be supportive of an under-resourced service are being utterly disrespected. But for the combined actions of BRAT, a new anti-tagging group, in cooperation with myself and Cllr Bridget Fishleigh of Brighton & Hove Independents, Johnny ‘Crew’ McMillan would be carrying on his tagging without a care in the world (whilst enforcement officers carry on doing nothing in similar vein). BRAT stands for Business and Residents Against Tagging.

Hard video and photographic evidence of Johnny Crew at work in the St. James’s Street area and online (winter 2022). All this information was sent to council and police enforcement officers last year.
Whereas at one time, taggers at least left our homes alone, it’s now a free for all. They know they can get away with it.

These are the hallmarks of a city sliding into an ever expanding pit of ‘no-one cares’ which will then breed more of same – and more anti-social behaviour and more crime.  The connection between ever-more anti-social behaviour in environments plagued by litter and graffiti has been demonstrated by research. Summarised in the New Scientist the research concludes “one type of antisocial behaviour leads to others, because people’s sense of social obligation to others is eroded”. The results support ‘broken windows theory’. The New Scientist quotes Geraldine Pettersson, who co-authored a 2003 report on graffiti:  “People associate the presence of graffiti with a lack of social control and management of their neighbourhood or environment, and it relays the message that no-one is ‘in charge.”

And that would ring true in regards to our council, a cosy work-from-home culture populated by fully paid employees who seem entirely disengaged from the city they are employed to take care of.  And likewise our police force who are absent from the streets and who take no follow-up action on what they consider low-level crime.

The city council and the police force need to get a grip and return to work before the law abiding, council tax paying residents demand an end to work-from-home and replacement of ineffective departments with efficient private services. Private tagging removal services would surely be far more efficient and cost effective than our ineffectual and largely absent enforcement teams are proving to be.

Adrian Hart

GZ – A Tag on Every Corner in Brighton

GZ is a tag that started appearing in Brighton earlier in the year. Nothing of any artistic merit, just two letters written on every corner across our city. As soon as it gets painted over a new one shows up, as you can see on this residential property in Hanover.

GZ is known to the police and council (and he no doubt shows up on countless CCTV recordings) but continues to incessantly tag on his own and with other taggers including Molly and YS. We’ve seen the tag on council property, residential buildings, commercial buildings and personal property – a headache for everyone.

We’d love to see some police action on this tagger. If you have information to share then please consider using the Report function of our website.

The Crew Connection

Last November, as winter began to bite, my walks to and from the city centre and Carlton Hill created something of a dismal narrative. For the first time since I moved here in 2003, I began to notice an extra layer of urban squalor to which epidemic levels of ‘tag’ graffiti seem the perfect sour-tasting icing on the ugly cake. The problems of rough sleeping, drug addiction and begging, crime and unkempt neighbourhoods deserve special attention but this post is about tagging and the failure of our council.

This picture (below) which I took as I walked down Edward Street toward the Pavilion seemed to sum up the challenge facing any of us still clinging on to some semblance of civic pride.

But it was also in November that the ‘Crew’ tags caught my eye. More a case of spray-can handwriting than a typical tag, this graffiti extended to ‘Google Johnny Crew’. And so I did. The persona of ‘Johnny Crew’ (who we now know is John Mcmillan, 47, originally from Edinburgh) exists on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. His seconds-long mobile ‘selfie’ films are entries in his ongoing video log and contributions to his channel ‘Crew Connection TV’. He comes over as amiable and self-reflective (a lot of Johnny’s commentary to camera are off-the-cuff reflections on self-empowerment and achieving personal goals). Yet what immediately strikes those of us who’ve been prompted by Johnny ‘Crew’ Mcmillan’s graffiti to search out his social media is the complete absence of self-reflection on the hundreds of Crew tags he has plastered on buildings (including shops and homes) amounting to thousands of pounds of costs. As Mcmillan goes about the business of advertising-via-tag his Crew Connection brand, its the rest of us who pays for it. To John I want to say good luck to you and all that you do – but not the tagging, you’re going to have to put that right.

An Argus front page and p5 profile (plus editorial) from March 18th – all about Johnny Crew – reassures readers that Johnny stopped the spray-can wing of his enterprise last May. Perhaps this was miss-reported. Crew tags exploded late last year with these (below) appearing in my neighbourhood (White Street and Islingworth Road) early this year.

The Argus feature also reassured readers that Johnny half regrets but half doesn’t regret his spray-can adventures. He is sorry about it but at the same time needs to point out to the reporter that his graffiti helps people. Hidden behind his enterprise is, says Johnny, his true mission which is to make contact with the disenfranchised – the rough sleepers and the addicts he meets every day – and remind them that he wants to instil in them his self-empowerment message.

Again, I want to say that I’m 100 percent for the Johnny Crew enterprise if it’s helping people but no one buys the idea that the graffiti is a good thing because it advertises his coaching services (even if the Argus buys it) – the idea that his tags have encouraged “about 300 people” to reach out to him and talk openly about mental health” (as the Argus puts it) is for the birds.

For all the good his tagging has done “John was unapologetic” continues the Argus feature:

“As part of his “coaching” of the people he meets, he encourages others not to “have neglect spread into your life” and “sort yourself out”.

“Some people think street life is for them but you have to remind them that they are just having a breakdown and they can get out of it and there is hope,” he said.

“I try and remind people who they were and that they can change.”

In this V-Log entry from a few days after the Argus feature Johnny is clearly very pleased with it.  “Spring is in the air” muses Johnny, “…goals and aspirations, you know what I mean? I got an interview with the Argus group recently, the Argus in Brighton. It was good, I think they done me alright”. 

The Real Crew Connection

Most Argus readers would have been screaming by the time they finished the article (plus the editorial) – largely as a result of this paragraph:

“Following complaints about his tagging, John said he received a call from a council officer a few weeks ago.

He said the officer discussed the possibility of an “unofficial community service order”, which would see him go around the city, filming himself removing some of his tags and posting it online on his various social channels.

However, John said: “I told the guy from the council my story and he said he wasn’t going to take it any further and that he would get back to me.”

Johnny’s account or the reporting of it may be unreliable given the false claim of ceasing all tagging last May but the description of the guy from the council is all too believable. I’m sad to say that council and police enforcement officers have been worse than useless in dealing with the Crew spray-can spree vandalism (I want to say it again you and I are paying for this).

The only good news is that shoulder to shoulder with myself and Bridget Fishleigh of Brighton & Hove Independents an impressive resistance to Crew and other prolific taggers has now formed across the city. And they are organising. Already this assortment of residents, shopkeepers and small business owners have shared their experience and built up a bank of intelligence and proactive ideas. They will remain anonymous but a website and a campaign launch are imminent. It was this formation of citizens unwilling to give up on the city, furious at how we pay for the tagging epidemic, who submitted evidence to the council on numerous taggers. It’s hard to know what the word ‘enforcement’ means to our council’s Environmental Enforcement Officers (EEOs) but it’s clearly something different.

On the tagging activities of Johnny ‘Crew’ Macmillan, citizens sent in detailed reports – photos, CCTV, screengrabs from his social media – as far back as September 2022 but police and council officers did not act. In the case of the council, it seems EEOs were either on vacation, on long-term sick or distracted in some other way (working from home?) to the extent that the WhatsApp pictures and messages they’d asked us to send in were frozen via “deactivated” work mobiles. It wasn’t until I contacted senior directors at Cityclean that the Crew saga came to their attention. Incredibly, it was this contact from me in March – just a few weeks ago – that elicited the claim that my account of Crew’s online presence was the first the council knew of it. This was followed by reassurances on how the EEO team were extremely active (on regular patrols in the city, conducting joint operations with the police). Yet this claim is hard to believe unless patrols were blindfolded as they passed the many dozens of crew tags (including ‘google Johnny Crew’).

Yesterday I walked down Carlton Hill past the police station on my left and Milner Flats on my right:

The corner of John Street, police station opposite, Milner Flats ahead.

A few seconds later I turned onto Circus Street:

The real Crew Connection isn’t about Johnny its about how a tagger hiding in plain sight was known to enforcement officers and they did nothing; it’s about connecting the existence of hard evidence on a number of Brighton’s prolific taggers and the utter failure of salaried council officials to act on it.

The hallmark of a City sliding into an ever-expanding pit of ‘no-one cares’ breeds more of the same, and more anti-social behaviour and more crime. The connection between ever-more anti-social behaviour in environments plagued by litter and graffiti has been demonstrated by research. Summarised in the New Scientist, the research concludes “one type of antisocial behaviour leads to others because people’s sense of social obligation to others is eroded”. The results support ‘broken windows theory’. The New Scientist quotes Geraldine Pettersson, who co-authored a 2003 report on graffiti:  “People associate the presence of graffiti with a lack of social control and management of their neighbourhood or environment, and it relays the message that no-one is ‘in charge’.

And that would ring true in regards to our Council’s cosy work-from-home culture: fully paid employees entirely disengaged from the City they are employed to take care of.  And likewise our police force, absent from the streets, who take no follow-up action on what they consider to be crime too ‘low-level’ to bother with. This City Council and its Police force need to get a grip.

By Adrian Hart
First published on my personal blog.