MTR wants Hong Kong police to reopen probe into graffiti attacks on trains

Subway operator believes fugitive US pair known as Utah and Ether vandalised trains on three occasions in 2011, 2012 and 2015, and says fencing, patrols and surveillance have since been upgraded

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 7:35pm

After a video was released this week showing two fugitive US graffiti artists spray-painting subway trains in Hong Kong, the MTR Corporation has urged the city’s police force to investigate the crimes again.

The subway operator says it is believed the artists known as Utah and Ether vandalised trains on three separate occasions - July 7, 2011 (in the network’s Chai Wan depot); April 8, 2012 (in the Kowloon Bay depot); and on March 9, 2015 (on a train running on the Tseung Kwan O line). The video uploaded on July 11 shows the artists entering the train depots in Chai Wan and Kowloon Bay after cutting through razor wire and painting trains with slogans such as “crime time”.

“We reported each case to the police after they were discovered and it’s up to the police to decide what charges to bring, and up to the courts to decide whether they are guilty,” said Jasmine Law, the MTR Corp’s senior public relations executive. “But we hope that the police will look at the cases again now that this video has been released.”

Kendrew Wong, the MTR’s media relations manager, said fencing, surveillance systems and patrols were all upgraded after the incidents involving the American artists.

The Post is still waiting for the Hong Kong police to respond to the MTR’s request for an investigation.

Utah (real name Danielle Bremner) and Ether (Jim Clay Harper) have been on the run from US authorities since they skipped probation and travelled to Asia in 2011.

Harper, a 31-year-old from Chicago, and Bremner, a 34-year-old former Fashion Institute of Technology student from New York, were a part of a crew of about 30 artists called Made U Look, who focused on reviving graffiti art on subway trains.

In 2008, Bremner and Harper were sentenced to six months’ jail in New York and another six months in Boston, where they had also been convicted of painting trains, and were required to complete five years of probation.

“Even being in possession of basic art materials like paint or markers would have been in violation of our probation,” the couple told website The Hundreds early last year.

“We decided that we just couldn’t live like that, putting our lives on hold for five years. We knew we wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere we hadn’t been before and somewhere where there were lots of walls, trains and metros to paint.”

They flew to India in 2011, “knowing they can never come back”, they wrote on their website. A violation-of-probation warrant was then issued for their arrest in the US.

In the years since, they have spray-painted trains and walls in more than 30 countries in Africa, Europe and Asia.

Even being in possession of basic art materials like paint or markers would have been in violation of our probation. We decided that we just couldn’t live like that.
Utah and Ether

Internet posts show they have taken their “spraycation” through Asian countries, including India, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Singapore, where their vandalism of the city-state’s trains resulted in the SMRT Corporation being fined S$200,000 for failing to follow security protocols and the resignation of the metro company’s president and CEO.

Their sticker art and signature tags have been seen on the streets of Hong Kong for several years, but their vandalism of MTR trains did not come to light until their video was posted online on July 11.

The Hong Kong video is one of a series released to promote the duo’s new book, Probation Vacation - Lost In Asia. They have written that the book is a chronicle of “the adventure and drama surrounding painting subways in Asia”

Bremner and Harper’s spraying spree came to an end in May when Harper was arrested in Melbourne and jailed for six months after pleading guilty to offences, including assault and criminal damage. He will be deported to the US after serving his sentence and will likely face more jail time for breaching the rules of his probation.

Australian police were also tracking Bremner’s movements, but she gave them the slip and managed to get on a flight to Hong Kong. Her current whereabouts are unknown. The Immigration Department said it could not comment on individual cases.