Two men who were arrested climbing out of the window of a blazing hotel as flames took hold on the top floor have insisted they did not start the fire.
Allan Smith, 39, and David Phayer, 40, deny arson after the derelict Palm Beach Hotel on South Beach went up in flames in the early hours of June 4, 2014.
I was shocked to see it. It was ablaze in flames. I did tell the police there was at least one person in there because I had heard voicesAllan Smith
Smith and Phayer admit they went into the empty hotel looking for light fittings to steal for Phayer’s flat.
But they say they left when they heard footsteps coming from above and did not know a fire had started in a wardrobe on the third floor.
Giving evidence at Preston Crown Court, Smith, of Millington Avenue, South Shore, said: “We had a look around the ground floor briefly at the fixtures and things like sinks.
“There was pictures smashed and broken glass.
“There was nothing in there.
“We went up the first flight of steps and me and David Phayer both heard it at the same time - we heard a voice, a muffled voice, and feet directly above us.
“We left immediately.
“We couldn’t hear what was being said.”
Smith admitted he had lied to the police, initially claiming he had not planned to steal from the hotel when he and Phayer broke in through a rear window.
But both men insisted they did not know about the fire when they fled the building.
Phayer, of Burlington Road, South Shore, told the court he only realised the building was on fire when he heard the fire engines as he was being driven away in the police van.
He said: “I was with Allan Smith the whole time.
“I went in first and I do recall him having a torch. We went straight into the main area, like a bar and a lounge.
“The light fittings were all smashed.
“We went up to the first floor where the bedrooms are. I opened a few doors and had a look but they were all trashed.
“I heard footsteps up above. The place is absolutely eerie and derelict.
“I said ‘come on, we’re going’ and that’s when we got arrested, coming out of the window.”
Smith told the court one of the officers pointed out the blaze to them.
He said: “I was shocked to see it. It was ablaze in flames. I did tell the police there was at least one person in there because I had heard voices.”
Both men deny arson.