Groom set fire to castle over drinks bill

A groom set fire to the country house where his wedding reception was being held after he and his bride had a row with staff over their bar bill.

The resulting blaze caused £6m of damage to the Peckforton Castle Hotel, near Tarporley, Cheshire, and led to almost 200 people, including 11 children, being evacuated. Max Kay, 36, of Hunts Cross, Liverpool, right, pleaded guilty to arson when he appeared at Chester Crown Court yesterday. He denied a count of arson with intent to destroy or damage property and to endanger life, which was accepted by the prosecution.

The fire broke out in a wing of the castle at about 5am on Sunday 19 June. A previous hearing heard that Kay and his wife had argued with the owners of the castle earlier that day over money.

About 100 firefighters tackled the fire at the Grade 1-listed property, a 19th-century country house. Duncan Bould, prosecuting, said many of the guests were of Kay's own wedding party who had "taken alcohol to some extent or another" and were "obviously vulnerable". Patrick Thompson, defending, said the defendant had been under "great personal strain" and was "near bankrupt".

The hearing was told that Kay, who had been drinking heavily, was caught on CCTV entering and leaving the drawing-room, where the blaze started. It had been set out for the next day's wedding. He will be sentenced at Chester in February.