Page last updated at 19:48 GMT, Tuesday, 28 July 2009 20:48 UK

Sacked chef jailed for pub arson

George Hotel fire
The 600-year-old cob-walled building was totally destroyed by the fire

A former employee who set fire to a 15th Century Devon pub, despite it being packed with Christmas revellers has been jailed.

As bar staff evacuated the Grade II listed George Hotel on Dartmoor, Lee Garner told them it was a false alarm.

Exeter Crown Court was told the disgruntled 42-year-old former chef wanted the fire to spread.

Garner, of West Street, Okehampton, Devon, was jailed for six years, with a four-year extended sentence.

The court was told despite the efforts of more than 100 firefighters and 20 appliances, the 600-year-old hotel in Hatherleigh was totally destroyed in the arson attack on 23 December last year.

Mercifully no-one was injured
Judge Graham Cottle

Garner had been dismissed for helping himself to alcohol at the pub where he had only been employed for a few weeks.

There was an argument between the pub's tenants and Garner over his unpaid wages and Garner ended up taking some valuable kitchen knives.

He told his wife Anita he intended to "burn the George Hotel to the ground" because he did not like the tenant Bob White.

The jury was told on the day of the arson attack, Garner and his wife had been at her work's Christmas party. Garner was drunk and had been taking illicit drugs and medicines to which he had become addicted.

Murder threat

Prosecutor Andrew Oldland said Garner was "agitated" when he took a cab to Hatherleigh with the intention of setting a fire.

"Garner deliberately disabled the fire alarm in order to allow the fire to take hold to ensure serious damage and destruction of the public house, thereby endangering lives of those within the pub and the fire brigade," Mr Oldland said.

Garner admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and a second charge of harassment of his wife when he sent her text messages after the blaze saying he would kill her.

Judge Graham Cottle told Garner his actions had "substantially increased the risk" to people in the pub".

The judge added: "Mercifully no-one was injured."

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