Prisoner sets mattress alight after smoking ban kicks in

A maximum security inmate set fire to a mattress just days after the national smoking ban in prisons was established.

An inmate at Auckland Prison in Paremoremo set fire to the foam mattress and pushed it into the hallway where it ''almost completely burned away'', Albany senior fire station officer Ron Henderson says.

Firefighters had been on standby in case prisoners retaliated over the ban which was put in place on July 1.

But the arson was in response to a book going missing from an inmate's cell rather than an act of rebellion against the ban, prison management says.

The prisoner has a history of this kind of behaviour, prison manager Neil Beales says.

''He was interviewed by staff and claims to have lit the fire because he was angry that a book had gone missing from his cell,'' Beales says.

''We have asked that police and the Fire Service investigate and consider what criminal charges could be laid against him. He is also facing internal charges and has been relocated in the prison so that we can more intensively monitor his behaviour.''

Prisoners have a variety of flammable items in their cells such as books, toilet paper and bedding, Beales says.

''With the introduction of the prisoner smoking ban on July 1, lighters and matches became contraband items along with tobacco,'' he says.

''This has removed the main avenue for prisoners to be able to light fires and will improve the safety of our staff and the other prisoners we manage.''

But Henderson is concerned at how quickly the mattress burned out, indicating that the material was highly flammable.

''It's a reminder that mattresses should be fire retardant.''

Beales says the mattress was up to standard with a flame retardant cover and inner.

''The mattress inner is a polyester product which does not emit poisonous gases when ignited.''