TAG. .. YOU'RE IT; Police catch graffiti gang red-handed after four-month surveillance operation.
THE writing is on the wall for this graffiti gang.
Hiding behind a string of tags, the teen menaces went on a vandalism spree in Newcastle's West End, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage.
Police were flooded with calls from angry families and discovered thousands of ugly scrawls daubed on houses, businesses and even a church.
But the yobs were snared when officers set up a stinger wall to catch them red-handed.
The gang, made up of three 14-year-olds and one 15-year-old, couldn't resist the urge to tarnish a stretch of brickwork on Wingrove Avenue, Fenham.
But as they traced out their unsightly tags, police were watching and pounced to arrest them.
And now they face being served Asbos or their families kicked out of their homes if they continue to blight buildings.
And as payback for their graffiti rampage, they were forced to wash off the daubings as part of acceptable behaviour agreements drawn up by the Northumbria Youth Offending Team.
Insp Don Wade, whose team staged the sting, said: "This damage has caused great distress and frustration, not just to individuals, but to the whole community.
"They have made the area into a bit of an eyesore.
"By working together with our partners and the community, we've been able to develop an action plan to tackle the issue and this has been a great success.
"Each youngster and their parents understand that further offences may lead to court appearances and their landlords seeking their eviction.
"The fact they are now being made to clean it up means the area will soon be back as it should be.
"The positive outcome of this demonstrates that when an issue is brought to our attention, we'll work together with our partners and do everything in our power to find a solution."
Reports about graffiti started to be made to officers in the West End at the end of last year.
Families' doors were sprayed with tags and garages were also targeted.
Police launched an investigation and discovered the same names daubed on surrounding streets, including in the cemetery of nearby St Nicholas' Church.
Some vulnerable people had repeatedly come under attack and investigators worked closely with them to gather intelligence on who was responsible.
A surveillance operation was started and logs of the fresh graffiti were made for four months while the stinger wall was set up on Wingrove Avenue.
The operation caught the four youths in the act and searches of their homes found evidence linking them to tags, including 'Aki', 'Skuff', 'Base' and 'Sail'.
Others that had been used were 'Kufs', 'Such', 'LMC', 'Habe' and 'Try'. Police were able to pin 95 incidents of criminal damage of the youths.
The vandals had been practising their tags on school books over and over again and this helped officers link them to damage discovered on the surrounding streets.
Coun Nigel Todd, chair of the Wingrove Ward Committee, said: "We're delighted the police have been so successful in getting to grips with the graffiti problem.
"Parts of the area have been an eyesore for months and residents will be relieved that the mess is being cleaned up.
"The graffiti had to remain in place for quite a long time to serve as evidence in the prosecutions, but people will be glad to see it go.
"We would be keen to talk to the young people involved about whether the council could offer any activities that are less damaging."
Insp Wade has written to all of the victims of the gang's vandalism spree to explain what action has been taken and the youths will continue to be closely monitored.
Also involved in devising the strategy to deal with the yobs were local councillors, representatives from Newcastle City Council and the Tyne & Wear Fire and Rescue Service.
"This damage has caused great distress and frustration, not just to individuals, but to the whole community, and had made the area into a bit of an eyesore
GET SCRUBBING: Young offenders clean the graffiti which they daubed on property all over Fenham; WE WERE WATCHING YOU ALL ALONG: Sgt Jason Bishop, left, and Insp Donald Wade at the wall which was being constantly filmed as part of their graffiti sting; MESSY: Graffiti around Wingrove Road; BLIGHT: Graffiti daubed on bins and walls; SHAME: The yobs even tagged a church; CLEAN-UP: Some of the yobs' tags