"Paradise has turned to hell" for a Cumbrian family after five of their horses and a dog died in a suspected arson attack.

Devastated Paul Johnston, 67, provided an idyllic setting for his seven grandchildren to play, sail on a pond and ride their horses in Distington.

But a week ago, their dream site went up in flames as fire tore through a barn, killing their beloved animals.

"This is the go-to-place for my grandkids," said Paul, who was first on the scene.

"They're always up here, we've got plenty of little jockeys. It's paradise for them, but the kids' paradise has turned to hell.

"I arrived when it was well ablaze and in a state of semi collapse. It was basically a timber construction and with a fairly high wind, it went in no time.

"I'd brought another two horses into the building to put a waterproof rug on them and put them back out again. I wish I'd put rugs on all of them and threw them out but the foal looked so cold and wet.

"Daft me was feeling sorry for them. I was looking after them, trying to give them the best care.

"Friday is the first time my 14-year-old granddaughter came up here since the fire; we didn't want the kids here while the embers were still burning and there was a smell.

"It absolutely broke her heart, she stood here and she howled. It's terrible."

Georgina Donaughee, a member of Cumberland Foxhounds Pony Club, lost her horse, Red, in the blaze. At 14, she follows in the footsteps of her horse-loving family by competing in equestrian events.

"Showjumping is what she loves," said Paul, from Workington. "I've competed throughout my life, her mother Hannah competed and was a member of the same club. Her auntie Emma was also in the pony club.

"I'd had Red for about 18 months. It was eventually going to be a replacement when her other horse retires."

Sparky, Marley, Tilly and Jilly were also in the barn, along with Paul's seven-year-old rottweiler Bruno.

Tilly and Jilly, a mare and foal, belonged to Emma Hall's son and Paul's grandson Lorcan, eight.

"The foal was named after his grandma Gillian [Paul's wife]. He wanted something to rhyme with Tilly and he came up with it. God love him."

Georgina's sister Rebecca, eight, looked after Sparky while Marley was Paul's stallion.

"Whoever set the fire would have heard Bruno barking and they would have heard the horses' whinny because that's what horses do when they hear you approaching," said Paul. "They think it's feeding time."

Paul, a farrier, who also works as an undertaker for the coroner, said: "I've lost everything, I mean I have no equine equipment whatsoever. I had a tack room full of saddles, bridles, harnesses - thousands of pounds worth of equipment has gone up in smoke.

"I don't even have a lead rope to catch a horse in a field. All that stood in the debris from my farrier workshop was my anvil.

"The tack is a collection of a lifetime. If it was just the barn I'd be saying look it doesn't matter, I couldn't care less about a lifetime's collection.

"It's the way they suffered, fire is a horrible, horrible thing."

He's owned the land, near Chapel Lane, Distington, for 30 years. The night before the fire none of the horses had been left in the barn. They were laid to rest together.

"We've done the clean-up, all we're left with is a big, bare concrete pad," said Paul, who has shod horses in England, Ireland and Spain. "I would like to point out that I have had the most fantastic help from my son-in-law Mark Donaughee.

"He took the week off work, when he's self employed, to help me. Even though he's my son-in-law, he's my best friend."

More than £4,000 has been raised for the family and equine equipment has been donated, with support coming from as far as America. Paul thanked everyone for their support.

He also thanked John Elliot Ltd, Craig Stamper, Trevor Brough, Phillip Carruthers, of Groundworks, and Jason Postlethwaite for their help with the clean-up and funeral directors John Yeowart and Andrew Sandelands, who stood in for him in his coroners' role while he dealt with the aftermath of the fire.

To support the family, go to www.gofundme.com/shvn7-support-fund

*Two men, aged 43 and 17, were arrested on suspicion of arson following the incident.

They have been released under investigation.

Anyone with information should call officers on 101, quoting incident number 268 of September 8. Alternatively, contact independent charity Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.