Air NZ bars violent prisoner from flight

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 28/08/2014

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A prisoner being taken through Wellington Airport became so violent and abusive after spotting police that Air New Zealand refused to fly her.

The high-security inmate, understood to be serial litigant Kerryn Mitchell, arrived at the airport from Auckland on Tuesday morning for an appearance in Wellington District Court.

When she was taken back to the airport for her return to Auckland, she saw some police officers assisting with security for Labour leader David Cunliffe, who was passing through.

Mitchell, who has a documented phobia of police, hurled abuse at the officers before becoming aggressive. It is understood Air New Zealand then refused to allow her to fly, and a decision was made to drive her back to Auckland.

A Corrections spokeswoman confirmed verbal abuse had been directed at police and members of the public, but said there was no safety risk. Mitchell had travelled on Air New Zealand flights before, and airline security staff were aware of her travel on Tuesday.

No decision had been made on whether she would face any internal disciplinary charges, the spokeswoman said.

"Corrections staff manage some of New Zealand's most difficult and challenging citizens. Even with the best practices in place, there will always be the risk that a prisoner may behave in an unpredictable way."

Corrections Association industrial officer Beven Hanlon said the incident highlighted the dangers of flying high-risk prisoners on public flights. "They're just rolling the dice, and one of these days it will come up snake-eyes and a member of the public will get hurt."

A police spokesman confirmed the incident but said Corrections staff accompanying Mitchell dealt with the matter and did not require assistance from officers.

Cunliffe was at the airport at the time but on a different floor and was unaware of what happened, he said.

Mitchell has a litigious history, earlier this year taking a case to the High Court claiming her rights had been breached by the removal of her television because of the new Corrections policy replacing them with rental units.

Previous cases taken by Mitchell against Corrections include one in which she claimed she destroyed four mattresses on successive days because they were too small and thin. She tried to sue for the six days she spent subsequently without a mattress.

A second claim involved an alleged breach of rights when Corrections withheld her copy of The Dominion Post. A copy of the January 30, 2013, edition was withheld because it contained an "unauthorised external communication" - a letter from the newspaper in response to her complaint that she was not receiving all her papers.

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