Q. Can your Leeds polygraph examiner found out if my son is vandalising buildings?

I’m getting worried about my son. He got into trouble a few times when he was a very young lad over graffiti. He’s 17 now but doesn’t seem to have grown up at all. He still rides a skateboard and hangs around the local skate park. Some of the characters he hangs around with are dodgy to say the least. He hasn’t found a job yet, despite being offered an apprenticeship in engineering after he decided to leave.

His first brush with the law was when he was 13 and several others followed up until he was 15.  Then it stopped as far as I was aware. But something tells me he has started again.

Patrick considers graffiti to be street art rather than vandalism. He did art at school and some of the things he’s shown me are quite brilliant. The problem is that defacing public buildings is illegal and if he gets caught again he’ll go to prison, I’m sure of it.

It isn’t as though what he does is offensive but it’s very loud and brash, not like a Banksy or anything nice that our town can be proud of. I found spray paint in his room and removed it after the last incident but now I’ve found some new stuff in the garage. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there last week. I’ve asked Patrick about it and he says it wasn’t him. I’ve looked up penalties for graffiti in the UK and it states if the value of damage costs more than £5000 to correct then anyone 18 or over could get 10 years in prison.

Do you think a lie detector test could find out if he’s still doing this? I really want to intervene before he gets into any more trouble.

M.L., Leeds

Response from our Leeds Polygraph Examiner

There is a whole raft of legislation related to graffiti so if your son has recommenced his artistic activities you are right to worry.

Cleaning up what graffiti artists consider to be street art costs taxpayers in excess of £1 billion annually.  This might explain why the majority of the public are not as appreciative as graffiti artists would like them to be.

Not all graffiti is illegal.  Local authorities and some businesses provide areas for artists to display their work.  However, if permission is not sought of owners of private or council property, there are several laws that can be applied to offenders.

Graffiti is defined in several ways including, scribbling, drawing, painting, writing spraying or etching on unauthorised surfaces.

Offenders can be arrested and charged under the following legislation:

CDA1971, Section 1 (Criminal Damage Act 1971) – carries sentencing levels between conditional discharge and up to 10 years of incarceration.  At magistrates’ or judges’ discretion a fine can be imposed or a community service order issued.  The latter, (as you may be aware) are often applied to younger offenders.

Under Section 6 of the same law, the homes of graffiti artists can be searched by the police.  This particularly applies when serious damage has been caused.  Any items that may have been used in the crime will be confiscated and used in evidence.

CNEA 2005 (The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005) allows local councils to issue fixed penalty notices. Normally the fine imposed is £75 but can be significantly higher (and rarely lower) at the discretion of the local authority. If the fine is not paid criminal prosecution can ensue.

Public Order Act 1986 – Section 18 – Any graphics or wording in the graffiti that might be considered racially motivated to incite hatred carries a prison sentence of up to 7 years.

Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 – This law empowers local authorities to force graffiti artists to clean up their own mess. Usually they’ll be given 28 days in which to clean it.  If they don’t the council will remove it and send the bill to the graffiti artist.

Shop owners that have sold spray paint to youngsters less than 16 years of age, can also be fined under this Act. They have to prove that they took reasonable action to determine the age of the buyer.


Tagging is not so much art but a method of claiming ownership of the property which has been defaced with graffiti.  By stamping the same signature or symbol on each defacement, tagging can be used by gangs to mark their territory.

A British Home Office initiative is active in many cities of the UK – ‘Name that Tag’.  It offers £500 to those who can match the signature to the artist and name him or her.

Lie detector test in Leeds

Graffiti artists are motivated by many different things.  Sometimes it really is that they want to display their art for the entire world to see.  Indeed Banksy is the most well-known and successful graffiti artist, earning around £15 million per annum.

However, anger is also a motive.  Could your son be angry about something?  If so, could he be venting his anger on buildings rather than the cause of his anger?

As previously mentioned, leaving a signature on the graffiti can be significant of gang activity.  Have you noticed any signature on his work?

As a Leeds polygraph examiner I have conducted a number of lie detector tests for vandalism issues and most have been related to anger.

I can establish whether your son is practising his street art again but more importantly I may be able to establish the reasons why.  Call our confidential, free helpline on 07572 748364 to discuss the matter further.  We can also give you some tips on how to persuade your son to take the polygraph test.