Warning after raids on back-street tattoo artists

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Back-street tattoo artists could have been inking the bodies of children as young as 13, according to council bosses.

Sheffield Council environmental health officers have issued a warning after a sharp rise in the number of illicit tattooists running parlours in their own homes.

The council joined forces with South Yorkshire Police after receiving a number of reports from the public – one involving a 13-year-old who was tattooed at a city home.

They were also made aware of a man who was hospitalised with hepatitis C after having three tattoos done by a back street tattooist.

Tattoo machines, needles and inks were seized from unregistered amateurs – often known as ‘scratchers’ – from houses in the Jordanthorpe, Parson Cross, Stocksbridge, High Green and Hillsborough in Sheffield during eight raids carried out this year.

The growing number of illegal operations represents a growing national trend which has been attributed to an increase in the number of television programmes about body ink.

Coun Jack Scott, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for environment, recycling and streetscene, said: “Officers register and inspect tattoo and piercing premises to ensure they reach the required hygiene standards.

“Although we have found this is not a big problem in Sheffield compared to other cities, we are taking a proactive approach to clamping down on illegal activity.”

None of the tattooists visited during the raids had proper licences from the council.

Under the law anyone found acting as an unlicensed tattooist can face fines of up to £1,000 if convicted by magistrates.

Residents looking to get a tattoo are being reminded to look for documentation which confirms the artist adheres to hygiene standards.

People using illegal tattooists risk infections and blood-poisoning from dirty needles which – in extreme cases – can prove fatal.

Coun Scott said: “We found evidence of poor hygiene standards with disposable needles being reused, leading to a risk of dangerous infection and blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV being passed on.

“Home tattooists, or scratchers, have little or no experience of infection control.

“They purchase their equipment cheaply from the internet and often advertise their activities on social networking sites.

“The safest thing for everyone wanting a tattoo or piercing is to go to a registered studio. Legitimate owners display a certificate from the council on the premises to reassure customers they are safe.”

Coun Scott said that Sheffield people should continue to report possible illegal tattooists working from properties to help the council and police in the crackdown on the problem.

n Anyone with information about illegal tattooists can email healthprotection@sheffield.gov.uk or call 0114 2735774.