A FIRE that caused more than £100,000 damage when it ripped through a Hampshire pub in the middle of the night was not an accident, a court heard.

It had been started deliberately as an insurance scam because the business was failing, jurors were told.

Landlord Dean Thomas torched The Tollhouse Inn, in Southampton Road, Lymington, with the knowledge of his wife, Melynda, when they were thousands of pounds in debt, it is claimed.

The blaze, which happened when five people were inside the building, destroyed the stairwell and upper floor.

Prosecutor Nicholas Tucker told Southampton Crown Court that fires had been started in two places, the bar area and the stairwell which would have blocked the escape from the first floor.

The court heard that would have generated toxic gases, putting the occupants at risk of choking. Windows on the ground floor had been smashed to give the impression the blaze had been started by an intruder, said Mr Tucker.

However, he told the court that glass fragments were found on Dean Thomas’s clothing which was discovered hidden in a holdall in the back garden.

Police then set up a covert camera and the following day Thomas and his wife were captured looking for the bag, the court heard.

As the jury watched the film, the barrister observed: “The silent footage shows when they cannot find it, Melynda Thomas becomes animated and distressed and remonstrates with him.”

Mr Tucker alleged takings at the Tollhouse had been disappointing and owner Enterprise Inns’ area manager made his concerns known to them at a meeting in June of last year. A further meeting was scheduled for the following month for them to come up with a plan to move the business forward.

However, before the meeting took place, the pub was deliberately set on fire on July 1, he said.

“The prosecution says it was set by the defendants in an attempt to find their way out of their unhappy financial situation,” Mr Tucker added.

Jurors heard Melynda Thomas had rung the fire brigade and appliances from Brockenhurst and Lymington arrived.

Within 40 minutes, they had put out the fires.

When asked if anyone had any reason to set fire to the pub, she claimed it was her brother, who was arrested and spent 18 hours in custody before his alibi was confirmed and he was released.

Dean Thomas, 42, and Melynda Thomas, 36, deny arson when reckless as to whether life might be endangered.

They each face a further charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.