THEY were, relatives had noted, 'very close' with a 'good brotherly bond', watching football together at each other’s houses.

But unbeknown to most, an appalling tragedy was looming.

Suffering from a psychotic illness made worse by smoking cannabis laced with the synthetic substance 'spice', Sean Blaney harboured disturbing, completely unfounded delusions about elder brother Leon.

A popular yet private man, Leon had no enemies. By June, 2020, having suffered a stroke the year before and still affected by the first Covid lockdown, the 39-year-old was vulnerable, cautious about the pandemic and 'assiduous' about domestic security, keeping his Garnet Crescent home in Salterbeck locked at all times.

Only Sean, of nearby Shore Terrace, had a key. He was a regular visitor.

“They were very close; had a good brotherly bond,” a cousin had remarked.

A family friend went further: “Sean was extremely close to his brother. They couldn’t be separated.”

And, added their father, Leon senior: “I’d say that they are friends. They watch football together at each other’s houses. They have a good relationship.”

But a taste of Sean’s dark, private thoughts came during a chat with another family member, who was told: “Don’t worry. I’m going to go up there tonight and kill him.”

And, overnight on June 22 last year, Sean entered his brother’s home. As his sibling lay in bed, mentally ill Sean mounted a ferocious attack, using an axe to strike him repeatedly about the head, while stabbing him in the chest many times with a knife.

Three wounds penetrated Leon’s heart; one reached a depth of almost 15cm; one thumb was almost completely torn off as he mounted a desperate bid to defend himself.

Carlisle Crown Court heard Sean, 38, then made “significant, conscious, extensive efforts” to clean himself and the bloodied area in the aftermath.

Leon’s body was found hours later by their 70-year-old mum, Susan. Sean was then arrested.

Initially charged with murder and then detained under the Mental Health Act, Sean Blaney admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

“This, then,” observed Judge Simon Medland QC as he passed sentence, “was a brutal and prolonged attack using a knife and an axe from the scene.

"It caused appalling injuries of the most destructive and dreadful kind against your own brother who was a vulnerable man in his own home.

“He had done you no wrong and offered you neither violence, nor the threat of it. It is apparent from the defensive injuries, especially to the left thumb, that Leon tried to fight you off and must therefore have known that the person who was ending his life in such appalling circumstances was his own younger brother.”

Referring to a comment made since the killing by their father, Judge Medland stated: “The word ‘devastating’ doesn’t even come close to describing how he feels.”

Sean’s barrister, Richard Pratt QC, told the court: “He remains perplexed as to why he killed his brother. It is a state of confusion in his mind and, of course, he feels that sense of loss.

"He has caused the death of a close friend and brother, and of course he has to acknowledge the suffering he has also brought on his own daughter.”

Mr Pratt added: “This was a one-off event. There was no warning at all the defendant was capable of this level of violence.”

Blaney will serve two-thirds of his 21-year jail sentence in custody before being eligible for release. He had caught Covid twice while on remand in prison, the court heard, and hadn’t had a physical visit from anybody.

Speaking after the hearing, Det Supt Dan St Quintin said: “My heart goes out to the family. It’s very, very rare that you unfortunately get a family who are not only parents of the victim but also parents of the suspect so they’ve got to make sense of this.

"But I hope the sentence can help them recover a little bit going forward.

“They are being supported by specially trained officer but that goes no way towards what they’ve lost. They’ve lost one son to the homicide but also lost their other son to a lengthy prison sentence so they’ve got to make sense of that.

"I’m just very grateful for the support they’ve given through this very difficult time.”

Det Supt St Quintin also paid tribute to the hard work of the investigation team, with Judge Medland also praising the police work.