TWO pub workers who stole cash from a gaming machine and tried to cover up the theft by setting the building alight have been jailed.

The Running Hare at St David’s Park, Ewloe, was gutted by the blaze.

The total cost of damage, including the renovations and loss of stock and takings, was put at more than £1.1million.

Clinton James Stephen, 31, who had been head chef and kitchen manager at the time, was jailed for three years and four months at Mold Crown Court.

The then assistant manager, Christopher Ryan Drake, 20, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years’ youth detention. The pair admitted arson.

The court heard that Stephen admitted in his police interview that his intention had been to burn the pub down.

Judge Niclas Parry described it as “a deliberate, persistent and determined arson” with the intention of concealing an earlier crime.

The fire alarms had been deactivated and the defendants visited the fire more than once – not to bring it under control but to ensure that it was strong enough to serve its purpose, he said.

“On each of those occasions you had the opportunity to think better of what you were doing. You chose not to,” the judge said.

It was a serious breach of the high trust that had been placed in them, first of all by stealing from their employers and then starting the fire, which happened on February 11.

“The level of damage and loss was enormous,” the judge said.

He added their criminality also had an effect on the wider community due to the temporary loss of the premises and they also caused a very real risk to the public servants left to deal with the blaze.

Both also admitted stealing £200 cash from the pub fruit machine, belonging to Marston’s Brewery. However a charge of perverting the course of justice by giving police false information about the fire, was dropped.

Stephen, of Church Court, Ashton, Chester, currently living at his parents’ address in Tennyson Walk in Blacon, Chester, and Drake, who at the time lived at The Running Hare, but comes from Discombe Drive, Meols on the Wirral, were at the pub in the early morning of Sunday February 6, explained prosecutor Emmalyn Dowling.

CCTV footage showed them at the pub until 4.20am, drinking and playing the fruit machine.

At 4.17am a camera showed flames in the vicinity of the machine and it was at 5.08am that they raised the alarm. Fire fighters found a well-established fire.

They also noticed damage to the fruit machine. A front panel had been removed together with a metal tray which held coins.

Both told how they had been woken in the flat above by the sound of the alarm and dialled 999 when they found the fire.

It was later that CCTV evidence came to light which showed it was a deliberate fire. It showed that both went to the fire three times after it had established. Cash and coins were found in the flat.

Stephen then admitted they broke into the fruit machine. He said Drake rubbed it down for fingerprints and they opened a window to make it look like a burglary. But fearing they would not be believed they started the fire to get rid of fingerprints.

Howard Jones, for Stephen, said his client had an issue with gambling, particularly with fruit machines. His only previous convictions were for drink driving.

Quite a lot of damage was caused and it was agreed to start the fire to cover their tracks. He accepted returning to the fire to ensure it had caught hold. “It got out of hand,” he said.

David Williams, for Drake, said his client’s behaviour was bizarre.

He was a young man who came from a faultless background, who had no previous convictions and who was doing well in life.

The defendants, since dismissed, both said they wished to apologise.
The £3 million ‘super pub’, The Running Hare, was opened on St David’s Park in August of last year.

It has since reopened after the blaze.