Hacking Tube Ads with London Plunderground


Written by Charlotte Pawle
28 Monday 28th February 2011


When we meet at 9pm in King's Cross, Plunderground have a rucksack full of tube advertising boards with screen-printed adverts on them, similar to recent benefit fraud advertising campaigns, except these expose the faces of corporate tax dodgers. The crew slip on their high-vis jackets as we descend into the tube. Bewildered commuters do double takes, wondering if the collective are regular tube workers or not. Their suspicions are confirmed as soon as they spot the word ‘Plunderground’ printed on the back of the jackets.

It is tricky keeping up with the Plunderground crew – they soon decide to ignore the planned routes, fracturing off in different directions and ploughing through the tube putting up boards at high speed. People watch curiously as they work their way through the Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, District and Circle lines. Plunderground insists their work isn't against the law, but I'm not so sure. A week later, we're out on the tube again. I'm taking photographs, thinking, 'can they really get away with this?', when a voice behind me says ‘I need to take your camera.’

Before I know what's happening, the plain-clothes policeman has two Plunderground members by the arm, and explains that he is detaining them. I delete the photos as I follow them all off the tube, but the other guys, unphased, quickly decide to carry on and disappear. The organizer tells the undercover policeman that they are not breaking the law and he cannot arrest them. The police officer disagrees, the debate gets heated, and one of them gets arrested. As we're all getting on the escalator, the organizer gives us a signal to leave, and we slip away, back into the tube.

Later, the guy who was arrested tells me that one of the policemen who detained him is a Banksy fan. 'He said, 'When we’re bored, we go Banksy spotting, but I can’t see one of your boards selling for a million, can you?’ I said, ‘Mate, if you think that’s what his work is about then you really are missing the point.’

The head organiser tells me that their project poses several quesions: 'To what extent can the citizen participate in the economo-politico process created by state capitulation to private finance? Reclaiming public space and generating a dialogue when none exists is the perceived purpose of protest, but in what other ways can this be done? How do we generate a sufficient debate around issues that matter, and create the required perspective and social condition necessary for change when the ballot box or polling booth fail to do so?’

The original adverts by the Deparment of Work & Pensions

He later goes down to the police station to see if his friend has been released, but when he reveals that he was the organiser he is also arrested, despite protesting that his actions are exempt from the Criminal Damage Act since he had "lawful excuse". The police apparently disagree, and he finds himself in a holding cell. Explaining his actions to the sympathetic duty sergeant, the officer called him a "self-styled peoples hero, Wembley Park’s very own Julian Assange".

Since that night, we've spotted several Plunderground posters on the underground. Next time you’re on the tube, look out for them! The arrested members have been released on bail to appear in court in late February.

Edit 3 March: After reviewing the case the Crown Court decided not to continue with the prosecution as it would not be in the public interest.

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at panic@dontpaniconline.com and we will respond asap.


  • Guest: rory
    Tue 03 - May - 2011, 09:04
    The point is that under the criminal damage act of 74 damaging or destroying property is lawful if you are protecting human life or property. In this case the property we were trying to protect was taxpayers revenue and public services. This is a green light to adbust any corporate theif ad you see, so long as you have the right intention. We were charged by the police but the crown found that we were not committing an offence.
  • Guest: ewormald
    Thu 28 - Apr - 2011, 13:50
    Now we can't protest oh my goodness what next will they do a Gaddaffi on us? When will we say NO to these liars.
  • Guest: rory
    Thu 03 - Mar - 2011, 13:57
    in response to the last comment, your information is savearly misleading. The amounts of money lost in our country through social services are a pale comparison to vast quantities the inland revenue fails collect in corporate taxation, government subsidies and deal underwriting in industries that are exempt from taxation and out right white collar fraud known in Whitehall as business as usual. The UK government has does not expect to recoup the money lost in bailouts and nor does revenue generated by the appropriated banks serve to balance the countries national debt. This is evident in the current austerity program or are you claiming that the slashing of the public sector is simply a fabricated front and that in fact the country is not in massive debt resulting from the financial sectors burst bubble? Either way i suggest you save you comments for the daily mail web site where they will no doubt be better received and incidentally, they don't pay tax there either.
  • Guest: aivegudvaarts
    Tue 01 - Mar - 2011, 16:22
    I wonder how many of those able bodied people are on benefits stealing from society? The thing is the government will make a profit on the money it used to bail out the banks.... The real fiscal problems are widespread across the western world because of the welfare dependency of able bodied people doing NOTHING.