Chilford Hall barn arson: Two men jailed

Thomas Richardson (left) and Mark Hall Thomas Richardson and Mark Hall were fuelled by alcohol

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Two men from Suffolk have been jailed for burning down a wedding venue in Cambridgeshire.

An 18th Century barn was torched at Chilford Hall in Linton in June.

Thomas Richardson, 27, from Haverhill, was sentenced to five years and four months for arson. Mark Hall, 28, also from Haverhill, received four years.

The fire caused £5m of damage and affected more than 100 weddings, Cambridge Crown Court heard.

The court heard Richardson was a disgruntled ex-employee and Hall his "vulnerable" accomplice.

The pair, fuelled by alcohol, started a blaze in a "cruel and calculated attack".

'Much loved asset'

Prosecutor Christopher Morgan said: "The loss of these buildings and personal items was irreplaceable. It also had a widespread impact on the local economy."

Richardson had been sacked by the venue for stealing alcohol exactly three years before the blaze and had long held a grudge.

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

He had driven Hall, who is autistic, to the barn and encouraged him to take part in the arson attack, jurors were told during their trial.

Richardson admitted arson. Hall was found guilty after a trial.

Both men were cleared of the more serious charge of being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Judge Gareth Hawkesworth said the hall was a "much loved asset within the East Anglia community".

"The fire started in the dead of night when the venue was deserted but the owner, Fiona Alper, and her son were asleep a matter of yards away," he said.

"It was only the bravery and dedication of the fire service which prevented damage to their home and danger to them."

Adam Budworth, mitigating, said Richardson offered his "sincerest apologies for such disgraceful behaviour".

'Full of character'

Mark Shelley, mitigating on behalf of Hall, said his client had autism and very low IQ.

"He was heavily in drink and was led by Mr Richardson into going along to the hall and doing what he did," said Mr Shelley.

Outside court, Mrs Alper said a semi-permanent replacement for the barn would open next month and bookings for weddings had been taken.

She said: "The barn was Grade II-listed and full of character, so we will never replace that, nor the work that Sam put into making his vision reality.

"The business is getting back on its feet but it is desperately sad, what we have lost."

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