Pair on trial for Chilford Hall fire

A disgruntled former employee who was sacked for stealing set fire to Chilford Hall in an act of revenge, a court heard yesterday (Tues).

Thomas Richardson, 27, was dismissed from his position as a porter and barman at the premier wedding venue in 2009 for stealing and drinking alcohol at work.

Damage to the historic barn after the massive blaze is estimated to total £4.5 million - £2.5 million of that is assets and the rest is a loss of profits as up to 120 bookings have been cancelled between now and 2013.

Richardson, of Pipers Close, Haverhill, is standing trial at Cambridge Crown Court with his neighbour Mark Hall, 28, charged with arson with intent to endanger life on June 13 this year.

Richardson has pleaded guilty to a lesser arson charge. Hall has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

In opening the case, Gregory Perrins, prosecuting, told the court that after drinking in Haverhill, Richardson decided to go and “get them back” with Hall.

Mr Perrins said: “It was two days short of the third anniversary of his dismissal for gross misconduct. The prosecution says that is just too much of a coincidence.”

The jury heard Richardson’s girlfriend warned police of their plan which meant the fire service was able to save some of the property including the main house where the shareholder Fiona Alper and her son slept.

Despite her call the Great Hall, which the Alper family had restored, was destroyed by the blaze.

The trial continues.