AN expert told the New Forest pub arson trial that the fire was a significant risk to life and had not started accidentally.

Fire investigator Andrew Earl said the blaze at The Tollhouse Inn in Southampton Road, Lymington, would have spread but for the intervention of the fire service.

He told Southampton Crown Court how the flames had gone up the stairs linking the ground and first floors, causing plaster to fall off walls. It would have also blocked that escape route.

Mr Earl said: “The most likely cause of the fire was the application of a naked flame to ignitable liquid.”

The prosecution claims landlord Dean Thomas started the fire with his wife Melynda’s knowledge as an arson scam because takings had proved disappointing and the couple were thousands of pounds in debt.

Jurors heard extensive damage was caused, with the stairwell and upper floor gutted, and restoration and repairs would have cost in excess of £100,000.

Dean Thomas, 42, and Melynda Thomas, 36, deny arson when reckless as to whether life might be endangered. Both have also pleaded not guilty to separate charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.