‘Criminal damage’ is an offence involving damage to property.

‘Vandalism’ is a form of criminal damage, which involves damage to, or defacement of, property without the express permission of the property owner.

The police and the judicial system tend to use the term criminal damage when referring to acts of vandalism.

Common acts of vandalism include:

  • causing damage to buildings
  • breaking windows
  • setting small fires
  • using an implement to scratch a car
  • fly-tipping
  • graffiti.

Reporting vandalism

The manner in which vandalism should be reported depends on the circumstances.

If a property has already been vandalised, this should be reported directly to the local authority.

If a property is in the process of being vandalised, the police should be alerted or, alternatively, the local neighbouring policing team contacted.

If a bus, tube, train, tram or other form of public transportation is being vandalised, this should be brought to the attention of the transport company and/or the British Transport Police (if the mode of transportation is in London).

If a property is being set fire to and there is a personal threat to the onlooker, the emergency services should be contacted by dialling 999.

Penalties for vandalism

The level of punishment meted out for vandalism is proportionate to the seriousness of the damage done to the property.

The majority of vandalism cases are minor and, as such, are dealt with in the Magistrates Court. The penalty applied depends on:

  • how much damage has been inflicted
  • how much it costs to repair the damage
  • how much disruption has been caused.

If the damage to the property amounts to more than 5,000, the maximum punishment is six months’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000.

If the damage done is less than 5,000, the maximum punishment is three months’ imprisonment or a 2,500 fine.

There are alternatives to imprisonment and fines for vandalism. The police and local authorities have the discretion to issue ‘penalty notices’ to vandals. For children under the age of 16, this means an on-the-spot fine of 50 and, for those 16 years and over, an 80 fine.

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