A NORTH Yorkshire estate manager has left court “without a stain on his character” after he was acquitted of starting the fire that destroyed an award-winning North Yorkshire restaurant.

The Star Inn at Harome burnt down in November 2021 in a £2 million blaze when its thatched roof caught fire. It was closed for a year and reopened in November 2022.

Last year, Charles Birkett, 29, of Rosedale Lane, Helmsley, was charged with causing the fire and being reckless as to whether it would endanger life.

York Press: Charles Birkett leaves Scarborough Magistrates Court after his first court appearanceCharles Birkett leaves Scarborough Magistrates Court after his first court appearance (Image: PA)

He denied the charge and today he was formally acquitted after the prosecution offered no evidence against him.

Outside York Crown Court, he said the time since the police first interviewed him had been the “hardest time of my life” and criticised North Yorkshire Police for the way it investigated the case.

York Press: Charles Birkett reads his statement outside York Crown Court with his solicitor Damien Morrison behind himCharles Birkett reads his statement outside York Crown Court with his solicitor Damien Morrison behind him (Image: Newsquest)

A CPS spokesperson said: “We have a duty to continually review cases, and after receiving further expert evidence into the cause of the fire, we concluded there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction and stopped the case.”

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: "We supported the CPS decision to offer no evidence at court. In light of the outcome, we will be reviewing this case to identify any learning opportunities."

The Recorder of York, Judge Sean Morris, said in court: “This was an accidental fire caused by people dropping cigarettes into a metal candle bucket.”

The candle holder had been on a bench below the thatched roof’s overhang. The candle’s flame had ignited cigarette butts and the fire had then spread up dry and dead ivy behind green live ivy that reached up to the roof, the court heard.

The candle holder had got so hot, it had left a round burn mark on the bench, he said.

York Press: The Star Inn, Harome after the fireThe Star Inn, Harome after the fire (Image: Staff)

The judge told Mr Birkett: “You are not to blame for this.  You are perfectly innocent.  You leave this court without a stain on your character.”

The judge praised the report by defence fire expert Dr Peter Mansi which led to Mr Birkett’s acquittal.

Mr Birkett had been accused of placing a cigarette butt in the thatched roof.

Outside court, Mr Birkett said: “I cannot quite describe the last two years and what myself, and then my family, and friends have been through. I am extremely lucky to have had such an amazing family, girlfriend and friends to help me through what has been the hardest time of my life.

“I have suffered severe anxiety which I have never experienced before, knowing that I was facing a prison sentence of possibly six years or more.

“For over two years, this has affected me as a person hugely, affected my job and income, and taken a massive toll on Hannah, my girlfriend, who has been a rock throughout this, as well as my family and friends.”

He also thanked the owner of the Star Inn, Andrew Pern and his family for “all their kind words and support” saying the two men’s families were very close.

“Were it not for his decency, his kindness and his knowledge of me”, the families’ relationships might have been broken by the “flawed” case against him, said Mr Birkett.  

York Press: Andrew Pern of the Star Inn HaromeAndrew Pern of the Star Inn Harome

Mr Birkett made specific criticisms of the way the police had handled the fire investigation.

He said his name had been "dragged through the dirt” and feared that other people who were accused of offences they had not committed would not have the financial and emotional support he had had.

He praised his solicitor Damien Morrison for his support since Mr Birkett had first been contacted by police, and thanked the rest of his legal team, Dr Mansi and  the prosecution barrister and judge for the way they had handled the case.