A man has admitted starting a fire at a west coast hotel that engulfed three floors and cost the owners more than half a million pounds.
Jack Salter, 26, was caught climbing through a hedge with items he had taken from inside the property after causing the fire at the West Highland Hotel in Mallaig.
The blaze, on January 3 last year, engulfed parts of an extension to the property and caused loss and damage estimated at around £550,000.
Salter appeared from custody at Inverness Sheriff Court to admit a charge of culpable and reckless fireraising. He also pled guilty to an unrelated assault and failing to appear at an earlier hearing.
Fiscal depute Emily Hood told the court that it was about 9.20pm when witnesses living near to the hotel heard “loud banging noises” and went to investigate.
“They exited their home and observed smoke and flames coming from the West Highland Hotel,” she said.
It was shortly after this that the couple saw Salter climbing through a hedge.
“He was specifically coming away from the part of the hotel the witnesses could see smoke and fire within,” she added.
The court heard that Salter, who was carrying items including photo frames, told the couple that he was residing at the hotel and had “saved” the frames.
“He appeared under the influence of alcohol as he was stumbling and slurring his words,” the fiscal depute added.
Despite Salter’s claims that he had already alerted the fire brigade, witnesses called 999 and one then entered the hotel in a soon-abandoned attempt to fight the flames.
“The witness continued toward the hotel past the accused and forced entry to the rear door to tackle the blaze. However, he immediately identified this was not possible,” Ms Hood said.
When firefighters arrived on the scene three floors of the hotel’s extension were on fire. They spent 10 hours fighting the blaze, which was contained to the owner’s accommodation block and 12 bedrooms.
Parts of West Highland Hotel closed for a year after fire
The hotel owners identified the items he was carrying as having come from within the living room of a staff apartment there.
He was cautioned and charged and made no reply.
The fiscal depute told Sheriff Ian Cruickshank that the fire had caused around £270,000 worth of damage and cost the owners around £280,000 in lost earnings.
The fire led to the closure of one-third of the hotel and half of the hotel’s guest capacity was reduced for around a year.
Sheriff rejects Jack Salter bail calls
The court also heard that on February 5 last year Salter kicked a man in the head following an argument at an address in Fort William.
“The next thing he recalls is waking up lying on the floor in a pool of blood,” said Ms Hood, who added that the witness was left with a large open wound on his cheek.”
Salter then failed to appear at a court hearing on March 3 last year.
Solicitor Graham Mann told Sheriff Ian Cruickshank that pre-sentencing reports might be necessary for his client and the sheriff agreed – but he rejected Mr Mann’s call for Salter to be released on bail in the meantime.
Sheriff Cruickshank told Salter, of Lochaber Road, Fort William: “Given the charges, in particular the extremely severe nature of charge three, the matter is adjourned for the preparation of a Criminal Justice Social Work report and a restriction of liberty assessment.
“I’m not persuaded bail is appropriate and you will be remanded for the preparation of the report.”
The case will call again next month.