A prolific graffiti tagger has apologised for spraying slogans across parts of the city - but does not regret the people he has met and helped as a result.

John McMillan, 46, who goes by the nickname Johnny Crew, has attracted criticism from residents and a councillor for scrawling tags “everywhere”.

His tags, “Crew”, “Crew Connection” - a reference to his blog - and “Google Johnny Crew” have been spotted all across Brighton.

While he has some remorse for what he has done, John said he tries to help people living on the streets to get through their drink and drug isssues and other problems.

The Argus: The tags have been spotted all across the city, including on this bin in East StreetThe tags have been spotted all across the city, including on this bin in East Street (Image: The Argus)

John, originally from Edinburgh, came to Brighton just over six years ago after losing contact with his children, a situation he says many people who are homeless can relate to.

He made a brief return to his home city after his mother died suddenly in the summer of 2021. However, after coming back to Brighton, he found his housing benefit cancelled by the council, forcing him to sofa-surf with friends.

He said: “Brighton is welcoming, it’s funky, it’s accepting, it’s perhaps the only place in the UK that’s got that cosmopolitan vibe. There isn’t any place like it.”

In an interview with The Argus, he admitted that he “shouldn’t have done the things that I have done” but said “there is a lot more to a tag than people think”.

He said: “People go through life not being able to express themselves and just grasp at something like tagging. I understand that it is vandalism but people are doing it for a reason.”


John was unapologetic about how his tags have encouraged “about 300 people” to reach out to him and talk openly about mental health.

As part of his “coaching” of the people he meets, he encourages others not to “have neglect spread into your life” and “sort yourself out”.

“Some people think street life is for them but you have to remind them that they are just having a breakdown and they can get out of it and there is hope,” he said.

“I try and remind people who they were and that they can change.”

The Argus: Johnny Crew claims to have helped hundreds of people who have found themselves on the streetsJohnny Crew claims to have helped hundreds of people who have found themselves on the streets (Image: The Argus)

Following complaints about his tagging, John said he received a call from a council officer a few weeks ago.

He said the officer discussed the possibility of an “unofficial community service order”, which would see him go around the city, filming himself removing some of his tags and posting it online on his various social channels.

However, John said: “I told the guy from the council my story and he said he wasn’t going to take it any further and that he would get back to me.”

While he claims not to have tagged since May last year, he said there are around “half a dozen” graffiti artists who tag on a regular basis.

He recalled how, one night, he spotted another tagger slightly further along Western Road in Brighton as he was about to graffiti.

John said many taggers have followed in renowned graffiti artists Banksy’s footsteps and use a specific aerosol spray paint.

The Argus:

Local campaigner Adrian Hart, who is running as a candidate for Brighton and Hove Independents in May, criticised the lack of action to tackle graffiti.

His group said it had been putting pressure on the city council to take action over the "crew" tagging.

He said: “The council must answer some hard questions on this extraordinary affair. It needs to reassure the public who pay officer salaries that its enforcement team is fit for purpose.

“The public who pay council salaries deserve better. We need assurance that a post-lockdown culture of mediocrity and slothful working hasn’t overwhelmed the enforcement team, just as it has overwhelmed other parts of the council.”

A council spokesman said: “Graffiti is a local, national and international problem. It’s an issue we take very seriously.

“We take appropriate and proportionate action as per our agreed enforcement policies whenever we have the evidence to do so.

“We are actively investigating issues relating to the 'Crew Connection' tagger.

“We cannot comment further at this stage.”

Sussex Police have been contacted for comment.