AN ARSONIST bridegroom who set fire to the country house hotel which was holding his wedding reception has been jailed for six years.
The blaze caused an estimated £5.4m damage to Peckforton Castle Hotel, near Tarporley, Cheshire, and led to 117 people, including 13 children, being evacuated.
Max Kay was sentenced yesterday and told by a judge that his actions could have proved fatal.
The 37-year-old, of Waylands Drive, Hunts Cross, Liverpool, had admitted a charge of arson that was reckless as to whether life was endangered when he appeared at Chester Crown Court in December last year.
The fire broke out in a wing of the hotel at around 5am on June 19 last year.
Kay, a property developer and father of four, was the bridegroom in a wedding party which had been using the venue at the time of the blaze.
The court heard that he had rowed with staff and the owners of the hotel over money and he was caught on CCTV going into and coming out of the drawing room where the blaze started.
Kay, dressed in a pin-striped suit, green tie and white shirt, showed no reaction as he was sent down but had looked on the verge of tears for most of the hearing.
The court heard that he was under “enormous financial pressure”, had a big ego and wanted to impress friends and family with a swanky wedding even though his property business had failed in the economic crash.
But Kay resented being chased by the owners of the castle for payments and took “revenge” while “massively” drunk after they threatened to cancel the occasion just three days before the wedding unless they received £15,000 still outstanding.
Passing sentence, Judge Roger Dutton said: “It was a miracle that nobody was either seriously hurt or killed by your actions. There is a long background to this – principally surrounding, it would appear, your ego.
“Having been made bankrupt and very recently discharged from that bankruptcy, you embarked upon a wedding that would involve paying a figure of approximately £25,000 for a ceremony you could nowhere near afford.
“It was all to maintain a bravado with friends and family and to make it appear you could afford such largesse to fiends and family and those you wanted to impress.
“In the end, you sought, and achieved, revenge against the proprietors of Peckforton Castle.”
Duncan Bould, prosecuting, told the court the cost of the fire, in terms of rebuilding the damaged hotel and loss of business, amounted to £5,450,000 but the “human cost” could have been much greater.
There were 93 adult guests, 11 children, six staff working, five staff staying over and two of their children staying in the hotel.
Some of the guests were drunk, in bed and “highly vulnerable” when the fire began after Kay set fire to the curtains with a cigarette lighter in the drawing room.
When a member of staff opened the drawing room doors he was knocked over and thrown six feet back by the backdraught, the court heard.
Other staff tried to fight the blaze with fire extinguishers but were beaten back by the flames and heat.
Though the flames spread quickly guests were evacuated immediately after fire alarms sounded and no one was injured.
In all 15 fire engines were needed at the hotel, with half of Cheshire’s firefighting resources called to the blaze.
Help was called in from North Wales and Merseyside.
Other guests described Kay looking at the hotel ablaze and seemingly “chilled or nonchalant”.
He later claimed his cigarette had “brushed” the curtains but this was “totally implausible”, fire experts said, and a “concerted effort” would have been needed to set them on fire.
Witnesses said Kay, who had drunk around 20 double vodkas over the course of the celebrations, had been making threats aimed at the owners of Peckforton Castle.
He told a hotel barman shortly before setting the fire that “nobody crosses Max” and threatened to “smash the owner’s teeth in”.