Jail for 41-year-old graffiti artist after £90K spraying spree

Simon Sunderland
Simon Sunderland
Have your say

A notorious graffiti artist has been jailed for causing more than £90,000 worth of damage to the rail network in parts of Yorkshire.

Simon Sunderland, 41, used his moniker ‘Bloodaxe’ to mark walls, bridges, signs and fences around railways in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire in a spraying spree between late 2007 and October 2009.

Simon Sunderland

Simon Sunderland

He also targeted buildings close to the railway line as part of a tagging group, who shared their work online for others to view, Sheffield Crown Court heard.

The south side of Sheffield station was one of the worst-affected locations, and British Transport Police and Network Rail appealed to bring the culprit behind Bloodaxe to justice.

The court heard how Sunderland was arrested at home in Sheffield in 2009 after he was seen with paint deposits on his clothing.

It was there that officers found spray cans, rubber gloves, emulsion, and a digital camera inside a rucksack as well as a hi-visibility railway jacket.

Jeremy Hill-Baker, prosecuting, said they were the “tools of the trade” for a graffiti artist, and that Sunderland had to trespass on to the railway line in order to spray the graffiti.

Mr Hill-Baker said Sunderland initially denied being responsible for the tags ‘Bloodaxe’ and ‘TPG’, but scientific analysis of his clothing matched the paint taken from various places.

Sunderland made his name during the 1990s with the tag ‘Fista’ and once held a solo art exhibition at a gallery displaying a series of limited edition screen prints of his work.

But he was jailed in 1996 for five years for committing criminal damage to the local rail network, after Judge Robert Moore, who sentenced him at the time, said the tag was “one of the most prevalent and frequent spoilers of buildings in the area”.

The sentence was cut to 21 months on appeal after hundreds of protesters joined a campaign to ‘Free Fista’.

However he was then jailed for 11 weeks by magistrates in Barnsley in 2002 for spray-painting the tag ‘Ajax’ on a bridge.

For the most recent offences, Sunderland previously admitted four counts of committing criminal damage by joint enterprise, for the graffiti.

This morning, the court heard how Sunderland had caused £90,000 damage to the railways owned by Network Rail, £200 to paint shop R J Stokes Ltd in Sheffield, £900 to Sheffield business M J Mapp, and £300 to Barnes Lifting Services in Dronfield, Derbyshire.

Mr Hill-Baker said: “Sunderland forms part of a collective tagging crew. He sprayed graffiti in various locations in South Yorkshire and surrounding counties.

“He would document his spray paint by means of a digital photograph which was circulated on the internet to other members who could comment on them.”

The court heard how Sunderland had previously been diagnosed as depressive and psychotic.

Richard Adams, defending, said his family have struggled to deal with his behaviour, and he was described as a “reclusive, introvert character,” and a “very odd individual”.

Mr Adams said: “He’s not a stereotypical son, brother or friend. Mr Sunderland is now 41 years of age and it may be a question that comes over everyone in this court as to why a man of this age should be involved with an activity usually associated with younger men and women.

“He’s clearly a very talented artist and it appears that he’s always been artistic.

“There have been thoughts that he might pursue a legitimate role, providing services to shops and alike but it seems there were limited opportunities, and through his association with that graffiti community he made a number of connections which have existed over a great many years.”

Judge Julian Goose QC sentenced Sunderland to 18 months behind bars. He said: “At the heart of these offences is your determination to cause criminal damage by spraying graffiti on properties belonging to others.

“It’s particularly clear that you used these ways of causing damage to a large area over a significant period of time.

“You were part of a group who were determined to carry out criminal damage. The group of which you are a member also photographed that damage and uploaded the pictures so you as a group could comment on them.

“It seemed to be a mission to cause damage over a large area. The harm that you have caused is not measured only by the cost I have referred to but also the annoyance these offences cause.”

Detective Inspector Mick Jackson, from the British Transport Police, said: “Sunderland is a prolific vandal who targeted the rail network with his criminal campaign over a number of decades.

“He was convicted of almost identical offences in 1996 and his more recent crime spree highlights his total disregard for the law.

“Graffiti offences are constantly being reviewed and offenders will be sought even many months or years after the crime – I hope this acts as a deterrent for those thinking about doing the same as Sunderland.

“Some people consider graffiti to be art but in reality it is nothing more than selfish vandalism that not only scars the railway environment but contributes to the fear of crime and costs operators thousands of pounds in equipment downtime as well as cleaning.

“The financial costs of cleaning up graffiti have to be borne by someone, and that someone is ultimately the fare-paying passenger.

“Trains are taken out of service for cleaning, sometimes for days at a time, causing disruption and delays for passengers.

“Graffiti also involves serious risks to those who go onto the tracks, who often don’t know when a train will come or if the tracks are live.”

Vicki Beadle, community safety manager at Network Rail, said: “Defacing the rail network is not only unsightly, but is expensive to remove. This money could be better-used by reinvesting it back into the railway. We are pleased this offence has been taken so seriously by the court.”