Max Kay sentenced to six years for setting fire to reception venue after row over bar bill and other expenses
A property developer who set fire to a country house on his wedding night, causing more than ?5m of damage, has been sentenced to six years in prison.
Max Kay had just got married when he started the devastating blaze at the Peckforton Castle hotel, a gothic mansion near Tarporley, in Cheshire. More than 100 people had to be evacuated, including 13 children. His new wife was in bed in the room directly above where he started the blaze.
In December, the 37-year-old pleaded guilty to a charge of arson that was reckless as to whether life was endangered.
During the case, Chester crown court heard that Kay had drunk about 20 double vodkas over the course of his wedding celebrations and had threatened the owners of Peckforton Castle after being asked to settle his bills.
The father-of-four, from Liverpool, was due to be sentenced last week but the case had to be adjourned after he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly hours before he was due in court. The defendant had cut off the tag that monitored a night-time curfew and was so inebriated that officers had to wait until mid-morning to interview him.
Passing sentence, Judge Roger Dutton said: "It was a miracle 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 friends and family and those you wanted to impress. In the end you sought, and achieved, revenge against the proprietors of Peckforton Castle."
The fire broke out in a wing of the hotel at about 5am on Sunday 19 June 2011. Witnesses told the court that, shortly before starting the blaze, Kay had said "nobody crosses Max" and threatened to "smash the owner's teeth in".
The owners of the castle, a grade I-listed were aware of Kay's outbursts but said they did not believe he would risk the lives of his family and friends by attempting to burn down the building.
The court heard how trouble had brewed on the day of the wedding over spiralling bar bills and other unpaid expenses. Chris Naylor, the managing director and joint owner of Peckforton, said: "In the lead-up to the wedding it was very difficult getting money from Mr Kay, and through the whole process really.
"On the day there had been a few issues with him wanting extra credit for bar tabs and things like that which, with the problems we had [already] had, we actually refused to do."
At South Cheshire magistrates court in June, Anne Rouse, prosecuting, said Kay had drunk "around 20 doubles [of Grey Goose vodka] throughout the night". By 3am, the bride had retired, leaving her husband at the bar. He made a number of derogatory comments about the castle's owners and, after saying he was going out for a "cig", was caught on CCTV a few minutes later entering the drawing room. Investigators discovered the blaze began on curtains in that room. Kay's wife, Stephanie, was sleeping in the bridal suite above. In the chaos that followed the start of the blaze, she was heard saying to her husband: "I hope you have not had anything to do with this."
When police arrested him, Kay told officers his head was "mashed up because everything had gone wrong". He added: "I was drunk and out of control. I don't know what I have done."
Referring to Kay's arrest last week for being drunk and disorderly, Patrick Thompson, defending, said his client had been under additional pressure because his wife had recently given birth prematurely to twins.
After the case, Naylor said: "The last eight months have been extremely tough on myself, my family, the Peckforton Castle team, our brides, grooms, hotel guests and the local, wider community.
"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."