A PUB landlady has been jailed for four years and eight months after she admitted setting fire to the Rake and Pikel in Chester.

Donna Tracey, 46, also pleaded guilty to fraud as she had called up the insurance company to start claim proceedings for the £200,000 of damage that had been caused.

Chester Crown Court heard today (Monday, September 10) that she had tried to disable the CCTV camera system in the pub and told fire investigators that it had not been working.

However, the footage was later recovered and clearly showed her using a cigarette lighter to set fire to a napkin before throwing it in a bin under the bar at around 5.25am on April 29 last year.

The film – played to the court – also shows her dropping a lit cigarette into the container before walking away from the bar as the fire takes hold.

Matthew Corbett-Jones, defending, stressed that she was at a “profoundly low point in her life” following the death of her boyfriend and business partner in 2014.

“In order to keep the business operating she worked flat out during a period of time when she should have been grieving the loss of her partner,” the barrister said.

“This led to her turning to alcohol to cope. She was too proud to ask for the help that she clearly needed. She is sickened by what she has done.”

Sentencing, Judge Patrick Thompson said the law was very clear that cases of arson must carry significant prison sentences.

He told Tracey: “This is a dreadfully sad case and it is with a heavy heart that I have to pass the sentence that I must pass. What you did was incredibly serious.”

The court heard that Tracey had been running and living at the pub for around five years, leasing it from the Trust Inns group and taking £300,000 to £400,000 a year.

Outlining the case, prosecutor Chris Taylor said three fire engines were sent to the premises on Chester Road, Huntington, after receiving reports of a fire.

Four firefighters entered the building to tackle the flames, putting their lives at risk.

“The defendant had gone from the pub to neighbours’ addresses,” Mr Taylor said. “She appeared drunk. She was struggling to stand and had a dog in her hands. She was saying ‘it’s on fire, it’s on fire’.”

The fire was extinguished and several days later on May 3 Tracey called her insurance company to begin a claim.

“She described a fire breaking out saying she would not have woken up if it had not been for her dog barking,” Mr Taylor said.

Investigations showed CCTV cameras had been removed with Tracey claiming they had not been working.

However, the court heard that footage of the fire “came to light” soon after and the case was passed immediately to the police.

In her interview, Tracey told officers the job had become very stressful after the tragic loss of her partner and she planned to sell up.

On the night of the fire there had been a folk evening and she had been drinking lager, brandy and vodka since 3pm. She was an “eight or nine” on a one-to-10 drunkenness scale.

“She said she couldn’t remember setting the pub on fire and was amazed as to why she had done it,” Mr Taylor said.

Tracey, who has two previous convictions for two offences, also maintained she had not made a false insurance claim as she genuinely did not remember starting the blaze.

Mr Corbett-Jones, defending, told the court she had not intended to endanger anyone’s life and had now given up heavy drinking.

She was recovering with the help of her family, including her daughter and granddaughter, and had seen a “big improvement”.

“She was at a profoundly low point in her life when this happened,” Mr Corbett-Jones said. “She has moved on from that now.”

Tracey, now of Ruthin Road, Cadole, Flintshire, will spend half of her sentence in custody and half on licence.