A Launceston man who set three different fires in cells at the Risdon Prison in protest of "frequent lockdowns" has been handed a nine-month sentence for his actions.
William "Billy" Craig Simmons was sentenced by acting Justice David Porter in the Launceston Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon after earlier pleading guilty to charges relating to the fires and another for destroying property.
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The court heard Simmons was serving a term of imprisonment relating to several offences, some of which included the destruction of property, which acting Justice Porter said he took into account with his sentencing.
Mayhem ensued at the prison at 8pm on May 5 when Simmons used a microwave in the common area of the unit in which his cell was to microwave sheets of toilet paper so they would catch alight.
Acting Justice Porter said Simmons had tried on multiple occasions to use the toilet paper to ignite items in three cells in the unit and on the third occasion caused fires to be visible on CCTV.
The court heard, within 15 minutes of the fire starting, the CCTV view had been almost entirely obscured by smoke but for a spark of flames that could be seen in one of the three cells.
Simmons was eventually able to light a pillow on fire, and that pillow was then use to start further fires in the cells.
As the fires began to take hold Simmons took a milk crate and attempted to smash a window of the unit before eventually smashing a nearby television.
Simmons had cited the fires were an act of protest about an increase in the frequency of lockdowns, and there had been fires in two other units of the prison about the same time.
The court heard Simmons had earlier spoken to prison staff about his frustration and staff had told him the decision to lockdown was "above their pay grade".
Simmons was told, "something big is going to need to happen if anything is going to change".
An investigation by the Tasmania Fire Service in the wake of the inferno found a mattress, bedding materials and desktop had been destroyed by fire and headless matches had been used to help to ignite the flames.
Almost $25,000 of damage was incurred during the fire, which Justice Porter directed Simmons to pay for.
The fire was significant enough for the prison's sprinkler system to be set off, which played a part in the excessive damage bill.
The court heard Simmons was amid a lengthy jail term - due for release on May 15 2023 at the earliest - but would have been eligible for parole in September.
Acting Justice Porter said the incident was somewhat unusual in that prison fires were typically set in the offenders' own cell.
"[But you were] primarily responsible for setting fires in three [cells]," acting Justice Porter said.
Simmons appeared stone faced by video link from prison as acting Justice Porter tacked a further nine months onto his prison sentence and told Simmons he would not be eligible for parole for six months.
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