Chilford Hall wedding barn arson a 'grudge' attack

Chilford Hall fire damage
Image caption Chilford Hall's wedding barn and adjoining rooms were burned down in June

A man who was sacked from his job at a vineyard burned down a wedding venue in a "grudge" attack, a court has heard.

An 18th Century barn and adjoining rooms were torched at Chilford Hall, Linton, Cambridgeshire, in June.

Ex-worker Thomas Richardson and Mark Hall of Haverhill, Suffolk, appeared at Cambridge Crown Court to deny arson with intent to endanger life.

Mr Richardson admits arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Mr Hall denies the same charge.

The prosecution said Mr Richardson, 27, of Pipers Close, had worked at the business for seven years before being sacked in 2009 for stealing alcohol and drinking on the premises.

'Serious and devastating'

Jurors were told Mr Richardson's uncle - the head porter - had managed to get him the job but by 2006 his conduct at work had deteriorated and he was given several warnings.

Mr Richardson had received a police caution in 2009 for making a threat to burn the hall down and kill general manager Glen Mejias unless he gave him his job back.

Mr Mejias said Mr Richardson battled with drug and alcohol problems, adding: "He didn't care about anyone, he wanted to destroy it, the contents, the staff, the art."

Image caption Firefighters from three counties worked for several hours to control the fire

Prosecutors said on what was almost the third anniversary of his sacking, Mr Richardson "made good his threat" and described Mr Hall, 28, also of Pipers Close, Haverhill, as a "willing accomplice".

The court was told Mr Richardson's girlfriend telephoned the police shortly before the barn was set alight to warn them of his intentions.

The pair broke into the venue, built a bonfire out of chairs and started a fire with spirits they had stolen, jurors heard.

At the time, the owner of Chilford Hall - Fiona Alper - and her son were asleep in a house next door.

Prosecutors argued the close proximity of Ms Alper's house demonstrated the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life and that both men knew the house was occupied and there was a risk the fire would spread to it.

The blaze, which was tackled by 60 firefighters during the middle of the night, was described by prosecutors as "serious and devastating" and is estimated to have caused £4.5m-worth of damage and lost income.

No-one was injured in the fire.

The trial continues.

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