Former employee at Chilford Hall torched wedding venue in “grudge” attack, court told

19:07 11 December 2012

Wedding reception and conference facilities were destroyed in the blaze at Chilford Hall on June 13.

Wedding reception and conference facilities were destroyed in the blaze at Chilford Hall on June 13.

Archant

A BARMAN who was sacked from his job at one of the biggest wedding and conference venues in the region burned down his former place of work in a “grudge” attack, a court has heard.

Thomas Richardson, 27, of Pipers Close, Haverhill, was an employee at Chilford Hall for seven years before he was fired on suspicion of stealing and drinking alcohol at work on June 15 2009.

He and his alleged accomplice Mark Hall, 28, also of Pipers Close, Haverhill, both deny arson with intent to endanger life after the Linton wedding venue was razed to the ground on June 13 this year – almost three years to the day Richardson was sacked.

Richardson has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Hall denied the same charge.

The cost of the fire is estimated to be in the region of £5m – £3m for the damage to buildings and contents and £2m lost revenue because of the 120 bookings which had been made up to 2015.

Prosecutors at Cambridge Crown Court said it was “too much of a coincidence” that the attack happened two days before the third anniversary of Richardson’s dismissal.

Opening the case, Gregory Perrins, prosecuting, told jurors Richardson had “made good on his threats” from 2009, where he told staff he was going to “burn down Chilford Hall” if he wasn’t given his job back.

Richardson received a police caution for his threats, one of which was to kill a member of staff.

Hall was described as a “willing accomplice” who, along with his neighbour Richardson, broke into Chilford Hall and began smashing bottles of spirits on the floor. The court heard the pair then “built a bonfire of chairs” and started what the prosecution described as a “serious and devastating fire”.

The owner of Chilford Hall, Fiona Alper, was asleep in the house next door at the time of the attack. Jurors were told she was woken by a call from the police after Richardson’s girlfriend had tipped them off about the pair’s intentions. No-one was injured in the fire.

More than 60 firefighters tackled the blaze and the prosecution said it was thanks to their efforts that the flames did not spread to Mrs Alper’s house.

The trial continues.

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