The deputy manager of a luxury castle hotel turned up unexpectedly at the scene of a fire he is alleged to have started, a court heard.
Brendan McNamara, 36, accompanied general manager Karen Merrick when they went into Ackergill Tower to assist a fire chief.
Ms Merrick, 46, told Wick Sheriff Court on the second day of the trial that Mr McNamara, who is on trial, had arrived about 25 minutes after she had raised the alarm and she spoke to him about it.
She said: I asked him – ‘How are you here?’ and Brendan said he had got a call.”
Ms Merrick added: “I believe he said he had received the call from the hotel’s auto-alarm system.”
She said she didn’t have time to think about it then, but later reflected that his explanation was not possible as she had earlier got the alarm call advising the Tower was on fire and in keeping with procedure had de-activated the system. It only proceeds to contact an alternative recipient if the first call isn’t answered.
Ms Merrick said her husband and herself were in bed in their cottage home in the grounds when she received the emergency call about 4am on January 5, 2014, saying that the Tower was on fire. There was no-one inside, as the building had been closed earlier in the day for maintenance.
They walked over to the Tower – said to be haunted – and could smell burning rubber and knew it was “something potentially more serious”.
Ms Merrick, who since moved abroad and manages a residence on a private island in Cambodia, continued: “We opened one of the inside doors but had to go back as there was so much smoke. We could see some flames at the foot of the stairs. We could do nothing so we went back to my office and I phoned the fire brigade. I could see smoke billowing from the cellar and went out to wait for the firemen.”
An assessment revealed extensive damage to the cellar, a painting, a carpet and a quantity of paper. A liquid accelerant and paper was found to have been used and the prosecution and the defence agreed in a joint document that the fire had been started deliberately.
McNamara, of Edinburgh, denies a charge of fire-raising on indictment, while acting with another. The defence has lodged to special defences, on of alibi the other of incrimination, blaming someone else.