Duo jailed for razing Chilford Hall in Linton

Chilford Hall fire
Chilford Hall fire

Two men have been jailed for burning down Chilford Hall last summer.

Mark Hall, 28, and Thomas Richardson, 27, both from Pipers Close, Haverhill, razed the 400 year old wedding venue in Linton in the early hours of June 13 while owner Fiona Alper and her son Ben slept in the main house nearby.

Chilford Hall fire

Chilford Hall fire

Both were found guilty of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered at Cambridge Crown Court on December 21, having been cleared of the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life for the attack, which caused £4.5 million of damage.

They were sentenced last Friday (February 8), Richardson getting five and a half years and Hall receiving four years – Richardson had already pleaded guilty to the lesser charge before the trial.

DC Tracey Griffin said: “This was a revenge attack by an ex-employee and his accomplice which caused a considerable amount of damage, not to mention the heartache this caused couples who were due to get married at the wedding venue.

“When officers arrived the fire was well lit and the Alper family were still asleep in their beds.

Chilford Hall fire

Chilford Hall fire

“The officers woke the family and moved them to a place of safety until firefighters arrived to fight the blaze.

“The fire not only put officers and fire officers in danger but has also had a detrimental effect on the local community and local businesses.

“Thankfully no-one was hurt and I hope today’s result sends out a strong message to others of the serious consequences of arson.”

Martin Boome, arson manager at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, added: “We work closely with the police to help prosecute offenders of arson. We carry out stringent fire investigations to establish the cause and retrieve any evidence that will assist police in their prosecutions.

“This particular incident had a huge impact on the community and all the emergency services.

“The threat to the safety of the public, firefighters and police was very serious.

“This arson attack was devastating and we know no prison sentence can ever replace what was lost in the fire.

“But we hope this sentencing today sends a clear message out to people who commit arson that it will not be tolerated by the emergency services and the community.

“The offence of arson carries a lengthy prison sentence.

“We will investigate every deliberate fire and if there is any evidence of suspects, action will be taken.”

Chilford Hall was bought by the late Sam Alper in the 1960s, who planted the vines for the vineyard.

It is now run by his widow Fiona and her step son Simon Alper.

The had been fully booked out for weddings and conferences until the end of 2012 when it was razed, and the Alpers will now have a glass marquee capable of accommodating 250 people erected until they have decided on a permanent fixture to replace the 18th century barn.

Fiona said: “Nothing can change what has happened and the huge loss we have suffered.

“We have been deeply touched by the overwhelming support from the public.

“Since the fire we have been working hard to re-establish our core business and are now looking forward to a bright new future for Chilford Hall.”

For all the latest news see Thursday’s (February 21) Echo,