The deputy leader of Cumbria County Council has died after a suspected heart attack at his home.

Ian Stewart, who led the Liberal Democrats on the authority, was the cabinet member for finance and represented the Kent Estuary division at the council.

He was also a member of South Lakeland Council, representing Arnside and Milnthorpe.

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, paid tribute to his friend of nearly 20 years.

“Nobody is irreplaceable but he is as close as it gets,” he said.

“If you didn’t know him well you would think he had a tough exterior but actually he was a very tender man.

“He was very kind and always operated with the best of motives.

“He just got stuff done. You knew exactly where you were with him.”

Among those to express their sorrow at Mr Stewart’s death was Cockermouth town and Cumbria county councillor Rebecca Hanson, who took to Facebook to announce the sad news.

“[Ian’s] been an utterly brilliant, supportive and inspirational group leader for me. He’s died of a suspected heat attack. My thoughts are with his family.”

She added: “I spend my whole life fielding people who tell me what I can’t do and that’s I”m not good enough.

“I’d tell Ian what I wanted to do and he’d believe in me completely and simply ask what I needed him to do to help.”

Others echoed her thoughts. Carolyn Otley wrote: “Very sad news - Ian is someone I had great respect for - often challenging, but always supportive, and a great advocate for Cumbria’s communities.”

Loraine Birchall said: “A sad loss indeed, please pass on our thoughts and sympathy to Ian’s family and many friends.

“He’s been a great help to many new councillors and candidates over the years, I will miss him.”

And Ross Henley said: “I am so sad to hear this. I really enjoyed Ian’s company.

“He was a great help to me during my time as Lib Dem leader on the county council network.”

Mr Stewart spoke out earlier this year for the first time about his suicide attempt three years ago. He said - on what was World Mental Health Day - that he was speaking about his struggle, in the hope it would help others “find light at the end of the tunnel”.