Chilford Hall: Former employee laughed and joked after allegedly setting the wedding venue alight, court is told

A BARMAN accused of burning down his former place of work in a revenge attack was laughing and joking “like he was proud of what he had done”, a court has heard.

Thomas Richardson, 27, is alleged to have set fire to popular wedding and conference venue Chilford Hall on June 13 along with his neighbour and friend Mark Hall, 28.

The blaze was started almost three years on from Mr Richardson’s sacking on suspicion of stealing and drinking alcohol in 2009.

Giving evidence at Cambridge Crown Court today (Friday), Mr Hall described the moment Mr Richardson allegedly took out his lighter and set fire to the broken bottles of alcohol the pair had smashed on the floor of the 18th century barn as the “scariest situation I have been in in my life”.

“I said you’re going too far. What are you playing at? I panicked and was really scared,” Mr Hall said.

“He was laughing and joking like he was proud of what he had done. I couldn’t work out why he would want to do a crazy and suicidal thing like that. It was like he wanted to kill both of us by setting the place alight,” the 28-year-old added.

Mr Hall admitted to having developed a drink problem following the death of his father in April this year and said he had drunk at least 12 pints of beer on the night of the alleged attack.

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He claimed Mr Richardson told him they “had a job to do” – which Mr Hall had to help him with as a favour for apparently spilling cider over Mr Richardson’s laptop five weeks prior the fire.

Speaking through an intermediary because he is autistic and has learning difficulties, Mr Hall said: “He said to me, you owe me �200. If you don’t pay me back I’m going to beat you up, break into your house and steal your TV.”

Mr Hall said his friend had later told him he was joking.

Both Mr Hall and Mr Richardson, of Pipers Close, Haverhill, are standing trial after being charged with committing arson with intent to endanger life.

Mr Richardson has admitted a lesser charge of arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered.

Mr Hall denies both charges.

The trial continues.