THE managers of a ‘superpub’ gutted in a blaze started by two staff have spoken of their mission to  rebuild the business.

One year on from the opening of The Running Hare in Ewloe, staff looked back on a turbulent year which saw controversy even before the pub had been opened.

The Marston’s-owned pub, which cost £2.8 million to build, opened on August 31, 2010, following fears it could hamper business for traditional pubs in the area and create traffic problems.

Less than six months later, on February 6, the pub’s managers Julie and Gary Millerchip were woken just after 5am to be told a huge fire was raging at the pub.

Julie, 50, said: “The fire devastated us. We didn’t think we would ever bounce back. I try not to think about it because it was a really negative part of the year.

“At first we thought it was another arson attack – there had been three other arson attacks in the area – there was the one at the Shotton Lane Social Club, so we just thought it was another.”

An investigation led to a court case when it was revealed two members of staff had stolen cash from a gaming machine and tried to cover up the theft by setting the building on fire.

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.

Julie and Gary travelled to Las Vegas for a holiday during the court case to take their minds off the fire, but speaking to the Leader yesterday on the first anniversary of the pub’s opening, Gary, 55, spoke out saying he was disappointed with the sentencing.

He said: “My opinion of the (justice) system has now gone down.

“In his pre-hearing the judge’s words were ‘be prepared for a long stiff sentence’ and one gets three-and-a-half years and the other two-and-a-half. They will be out in no time.”

Marston’s paid for the £1.13 million needed to get the pub back up and running and it reopened eight weeks later. Staff at the pub were determined not to let the fire and court case destroy the pub.

Julie said: “We were shocked for about a week because of it. But then we started to fight and got angry.

“If you’d seen how damaged it was you would have been amazed. Everything had to come out and it went back to bare brick.”

The husband and wife management team, who moved to Flintshire from London, say business has bounced back since the pub re-opened thanks to the support of the community and the staff.

Gary said: “It’s been hard work since the fire. We’re doing okay and can’t complain, but it’s how we’ve done it with everybody’s help.

“The team has been fantastic,” said Julie, who comes from Yorkshire. “We couldn’t do this without them. From the cleaners through to the kitchen porters through to management, everyone is 100 per cent into it.”

The couple said the community has been behind them over the last year, despite original concerns about the impact a ‘superpub’ would have on the area.

“People were worried it was going to be a big busy boozer with people drinking outside, but it’s not, it’s a food house,” said Julie. “The community were so gutted after the fire, the locals backed us 100 per cent. This pub is what it is because of them.”