A bridegroom who deliberately started a fire in the drawing room of a hotel, causing £6m worth of damage, has been sentenced to six years in jail.
Max Kay, 37, from Liverpool was sentenced at Chester Crown Court after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to deliberately setting fire to the curtains in the drawing room of Peckforton Castle in Peckforton, Cheshire, in the early hours of Sunday 19 June last year.
Kay had been celebrating his wedding, which had taken place the previous day, when he got into an argument with a manager over the amount of cash needed to keep the open bar flowing. Chester Crown Court heard that he had been "massively" drunk, having consumed 20 double vodkas.
The court heard that Kay was under "enormous financial pressure", had a big ego and wanted to impress friends and family even though his property business had failed.
He resented being chased by the owners of the castle for payments and took revenge after they threatened to cancel the occasion just three days before the wedding unless they received £15,000 still outstanding.
Kay was seen on CCTV going into and coming out of the drawing room, which was set up for the following day's wedding. He was heard by witnesses to say "nobody crosses Max" and that the manager who stopped his tab was "going to get it." He also ominously began inquiring into personal details of one of the female managers who he had issues with earlier.
The fire developed into a major blaze threatening the future of the Grade I listed building and the lives of those who fought to save it. More than 90 hotel guests and staff were evacuated safely from the building, while more than 100 firefighters tackled the blaze.
Passing sentence, Judge Roger Dutton told Kay: "There is a long background to this - principally surrounding, it would appear, your ego. Having been made bankrupt… 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 friends and family and those you wanted to impress. In the end you sought, and achieved, revenge against the proprietors of Peckforton Castle."
Keith Brooks, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service's head of community fire protection, who was the officer in charge of the incident said: "We welcome today's sentencing. Mr Kay's reckless actions put the lives of his family, friends, hotel staff and firefighters at considerable risk. Arson is a terrible crime that costs the tax payers thousands and more importantly it costs people their lives."
DC Jo Gooddy of the Cheshire Constabulary added: "Before the day of the wedding, staff had been having difficulty trying to get the money off Kay and experienced first hand his aggressive and bullying nature. To avoid further problems and confrontations they decided costs had to be paid in full upfront, including the bar tab which covered the cost of the open bar."
Chris Naylor, the managing director of the hotel said he was pleased the ordeal was behind him. "We are delighted that a conclusion has finally reached. The last eight months have been extremely tough on myself, my family, the Peckforton Castle team, our brides, grooms, hotel guests and local, wider community," he said.
"Today we are now finally able to draw a line under the saga and continue to move forward with our business and concentrate on our family. The event is firmly archived in the great history of our wonderful Castle and we are well and truly ready to move on. I'd like to take this opportunity to once again say a huge thank you to the team who assisted with the evacuation. Without their life saving actions we could be telling a very different story today and for that reason I am eternally grateful."