CARS were gutted and an explosion ripped through an office block in an early-morning arson attack on an East Lancashire stables.

The fire was started just yards from more than a dozen horses at Gisburn-based Panama Sport Horses.

The windows at owner Carol Richardson’s home, which is part of the complex on the Gisburne Park Estate, were also cracked by the heat.

Lancashire Telegraph:

Tests are also being carried out on a substance poured on a door at the front of the house to see if it was an accelerant.

The fire, which started at 1.15am yesterday, came on the same day a winding up order on the stables business was due to be heard in the High Court.

Carol’s husband Nick Saville said the couple had been victim to a number of ‘frightening’ incidents over the past 18 months.

These have included a burglary, removal of fences, the sawing of gates, and the dumping of an industrial skip, which was left blocking the stables’ main gate.

All the incidents were reported to the police.

Mr Saville said: “My wife and I are naturally very shocked that an individual or group of individuals would stoop so low as to place our lives, that of our volunteers and our livestock at risk in this way.

“Our horses and other animals were extremely distressed by the explosion, fire, and sparks flying everywhere.

“It is a miracle that no-one was killed.”

The blaze, which has sparked a joint investigation between police and fire services, also came within feet of staff accommodation where two teenage work experience girls and a guest were staying, as well as a kennel kept for the owners’ dog, Wolfie.

Panama Sport Horses, set up by Mrs Richardson over 20 years ago, is housed at a 70-acre equestrian centre, where horse trainer Michael Dickinson used to keep horses.

It has supplied horses for the 2012 Olympic Games and now has between 15 and 20 horses.

However because of the recent incidents staff said they felt ‘unable’ to let them out to pasture because they feared they may be let loose.

Mr Saville said: “We are desperate and frightened. It feels like we are living in a nightmare.

“Had the fire spread much further we would not have been able to get our horses out of the yard because of the skip.

“It has been there months, we don’t know who it belongs to, and can’t get it moved.”

The blaze was noticed shortly after 1.35am by a family friend who was still awake inside the house.

Mr Saville said: “She looked out to see my wife’s car was on fire.”

Firefighters from Barnoldswick, Nelson, and Clitheroe were all called, and spent almost three hours tackling the blaze with hose reels and a jet, breathing apparatus and around 45 litres of foam.

Specialist investigators could yesterday be seen gathering evidence from the burnt out shells of Mrs Richardson’s classic VW Golf, as well as a Renault Clio and a Land Rover.

A black VW Golf was also damaged, after its plastic trim and wing mirrors were melted by the fire’s ferocious heat.

Fire service spokesman John Taylor said an investigation was under way and that it was ‘in its early stages’.

A police spokeswoman said: “We are working with the fire service to establish the cause of the fire.

“We are aware there is an ongoing civil matter.”

In December a winding up order was served on the stables at the High Court of Justice in Manchester brought against the stables by landowner Gisburne Park Estates.

The decision, which could have forced Panama into liquidation, was appealed earlier this year and was back in court yesterday. A judgement is expected shortly.