Video thumbnail, Chester Rows - scorch graffiti
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Scorch tagging is the latest vandalism craze that could destroy Chester’s priceless heritage and also endanger lives.

BBC1’s Street Patrol UK has highlighted the mindless activity that involves using a naked flame from a lighter to burn a blackened tag or name on to the surface of the dry and brittle medieval Rows.

Scorch tagging is “potentially a catastrophic problem” according to Sergeant Andy Burrage, of Cheshire police, who was interviewed for Friday morning’s show, presented by Dominic Littlewood.

Standing on Bridge Street Row, he explained: “This is one of the areas where the scorching has taken place on the white plaster board.

“Behind that plaster is very old brittle wood. Using a flame to scorch graffiti on to the Chester Rows is just ridiculous, it’s mind-numbing. I would ask them to think about their actions and to think about the possible consequences of applying a live flame to a 900-year-old piece of wood. Potentially it could bring down the whole street. People’s lives are in danger, properties are in danger and they should go away and think about that.”

Police have only just got on top of the problem of drinkers urinating on the Rows, which was rotting the fabric of the buildings and featured on the last series of Street Patrol UK.

A zero-tolerance approach has seen every offender prosecuted using CCTV evidence with £400-plus fines. The scorch taggers had evaded CCTV in the past but extra cameras mean there is no hiding place.

Cllr Hilary McNae, a magistrate, who is also Cheshire West and Chester Council’s heritage champion, said: “It would be devastating to our history. These are 13th century buildings. They don’t exist anywhere else. Heritage, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Recalling the 2002 Bridge Street fire, which caused more than £3m of damage, she added: “Some years ago we had a really bad fire and there was a lot of destruction. It just made people realise, this is really old wood so very capable of going up, particularly in the summer when everything is super dry. It really highlighted to everyone how important these Rows are to us and to an extent how vulnerable they can be.”

Presenter Dominic Littlewood said: “When the actions of vandals not only destroy a piece of our heritage but also endanger life, that pretty much beggars belief.”