A 16-year-old schoolboy has admitted playing with matches in a stable, causing an impenetrable wall of flames and smoke that killed a horse and two ponies.
The fire in Godscroft Lane, Helsby, last November destroyed the wooden building and devastated the lives of owners Liz and David Gray, who were devoted to their prize-winning animals.
Speaking outside Chester Crown Court this week, they said they were relieved not to go through a trial, but would always feel the pain of their loss.
Four males aged 16 to 19 were initially arrested after the fire, but the 16-year-old, whose identity is protected by a court order, was the only one charged.
This week he admitted playing with matches in the stable on Friday, November 12, despite being aware that the horse and ponies were inside. He left the scene without attempting to extinguish the fire or alert anyone to it, then hours later burgled a house on Old Chester Road, Helsby, and took a Vauxhall Corsa without consent. He will return to court on April 22 for sentencing, following medical reports and a pre-sentence report by the probation service.
Liz and David have now begun rebuilding their stables, with the help of new Shetland Ponies Esta and Ella - the daughter and niece of Ellen, who died in the fire.
David said: 'Right from the time the fire happened the pain will never go away and we will always see Ellen in the two shetlands, but this has brought a smile back to our faces.'
Paul Teesdale, chief field officer for the International League for the Protection of Horses, said: 'This was a particularly repulsive, distressing crime in which three much loved and successful horses were caused an excruciating death.'
Meanwhile the sole survivor of the stable fire has settled down into her new home. Moustique, Liz and David Gray's tabby stable cat, was seen asleep in the loft an hour before it collapsed on fire, but managed to escape.