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London - A prisoner died after setting himself alight while smoking ‘spice’ in his cell.

The 31-year-old’s clothes caught fire as he smoked the so-called zombie drug, in the latest example of the narcotics epidemic behind bars.

The only prison officer on duty took 16 minutes to respond after the inmate pressed his alarm bell. When the warder finally arrived he found the cell at HMP Hewell in Worcestershire ‘full of smoke’ and the badly burned prisoner, referred to only as ‘Mr N’, crying for help.

The victim, a convicted robber with a history of substance abuse, died of his injuries two days later.

The case was revealed in the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s annual report, which said substances such as spice – a synthetic drug which mimics the effects of cannabis but can leave users unable to move – caused a ‘worrying’ number of deaths in prisons.

The report added that drugs were ‘readily available’ behind bars and jails are ‘struggling to stem the supply’.

Daily Mail