A MAN who stole cash from a pub before torching it – causing more than £1m worth of damage – has been jailed.

Clinton Stephen, 31, of Ashton Hayes, was sentenced to three years and four months after he admitted setting alight The Running Hare pub in Ewloe, Flintshire, where he was head chef.

Mold Crown Court heard how Stephen, and the pub’s assistant manager Christopher Drake, 20, raided a fruit machine and tried to cover it up by setting the building on fire, causing total damage costs of £1.1m.

Drake, who was living on the premises at the time of the incident in the early hours of February 6 this year, was sentenced to two and a half years in youth custody for his part in the crime.

The court heard that Stephen, who is currently living at his parents' address in Tennyson Walk, Chester, was said to have taken the leading role and had problems with gambling, 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.

“The level of damage and loss was enormous.”

Both men admitted stealing £200 cash from the fruit machine, belonging to Marston's Brewery.

CCTV footage shows Stephen, and Drake, now of Discombe Drive, Wirral, drinking at the pub until 4.20am.

Camera footage from 4.17am showed flames near the machine, but the pair only called 999 shortly after 5am and the blaze had already ripped through the pub by the time firefighters arrived.

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

The CCTV footage showed that Stephen had started the fire deliberately and returned to it three times.

Stephen said the pair initially rubbed the fruit machine down for fingerprints and opened a window to make it look like a burglary.

But fearing they would be caught out they then started the fire.

Howard Jones, defending Stephen, told the court his client had gambling issues, particularly with fruit machines. His only previous convictions were for drink driving.

He had been working long hours, and that night after drinking, he had lost £30 to the fruit machine and foolishly tried to get the money back.

The court heard pub managers Gary and Julie Millerchip had been left ‘absolutely gutted’ by what the pair had done.