Peckforton Castle fire: Bridegroom admits £6m arson

Max Kay
Image caption Max Kay admitted starting the fire at his wedding venue on 19 June

A bridegroom has admitted starting a £6m fire at a Cheshire castle where his wedding reception was being held.

Max Kay, 36, of Liverpool, started the blaze at Peckforton Castle Hotel in Tarporley at 05:00 BST on 19 June.

At Chester Crown Court, he admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

But he denied a count of arson with intent to destroy or damage property and to endanger life. This was accepted by the prosecution.

One hundred firefighters tackled the blaze at the Grade I-listed 19th Century country house, built in the style of a castle.

Almost 200 people, including 11 children, had to be evacuated.

A previous hearing heard that Kay, of Waylands Drive in Hunts Cross, and his wife had rowed with staff and the owners of the castle earlier in the day over the late payment for the wedding and then again later in the evening about a bar bill.

The court was told that Kay, who was said to have drunk a large amount of vodka that day, continued to complain to staff about the owners.

Image caption Peckforton Castle is a luxury wedding venue and has been used as a film set

He then left the final group of revellers who were drinking into the early hours.

He was seen on CCTV going into and coming out of the drawing room, which was set up for the following day's wedding.

Fire investigators later discovered the blaze had been started when curtains in that room were set alight.

At Friday's hearing, Judge Roger Dutton granted the father of two bail but warned him a custodial sentence was "inevitable".

Duncan Bould, prosecuting, told the court the fire had caused "in the region" of £6m in damage.

He said: "There were a large number of guests staying that night.

"Fortunately, and it is good fortune, the premises was equipped with a very efficient fire alarm and the combination of that and the staff meant that all the guests were able to be evacuated."

Mr Bould said many of the guests were from Kay's own wedding party who had "taken alcohol to some extent or another" and were "obviously vulnerable".

Patrick Thompson, defending, said the offence came at a time when the defendant was under "great personal strain" and he was "near bankrupt".

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