Student who killed his parents and flew to US on £30,000 spree is jailed for life

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The Independent Online

Brian Blackwell's mental condition – narcissistic personality disorder – made him obsessed with fantasies of his success and wealth. The lies and exaggeration which are a part of the condition left his girlfriend convinced that Blackwell, 19, would pay her £80,000 a year as his manager. He bought her a car and took her to one of New York's most expensive hotels.

But when Blackwell's parents, a retired accountant, Sydney Blackwell, 71, and his wife Jacqueline, 60, an antiques dealer, prevented him securing the money he needed to keep up his story, he beat them with a claw hammer and stabbed them up to 30 times with a kitchen knife at their £350,000 bungalow in the affluent village of Melling, Merseyside.

The day after, he used their credit cards for a £30,000 spending spree on a trip to America with his girlfriend, including £4,800 business class seats to New York and a three-night, £2,200 stay at the presidential suite of the Plaza Hotel.

Blackwell – an "exemplary student" with four A- grades at A-level – was jailed for life by Mr Justice Royce at Liverpool Crown Court, who was told his disorder was untreatable and may remain throughout his life. The 12-year tariff means he will be eligible for parole in five years and seven months but the judge indicated he may never be released.

"For a son to do this is almost beyond belief but you are no ordinary son," he said. Blackwell pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Despite academic brilliance that earned him offers from the Edinburgh and Nottingham University medical schools, Blackwell's inclination to exaggerate his achievements began as soon as he reached the £7,000-a-year Liverpool College on a scholarship. He lied about his Sats results and about his tennis ability.

He convinced his girlfriend and fellow student, Amal Saba, that he was an international tennis player, sponsored by the sportswear firms Nike and Fisher. His Nike contract, he told Ms Saba, entitled him to a personal secretary or manager – a role she could fulfil, earning 10 per cent of all his winnings, an annual £20,000 bonus and an expense account of up to £69,000, as well as her basic salary.

In fact, Lawn Tennis Association rankings showed him to be merely a decent player at his local David Lloyd tennis centre. The Fisher contract entitled him to 50 per cent off the retail price of equipment. There was no contract with Nike.

Blackwell gave Ms Saba a cheque for £39,000 in April 2004, in respect of three months' pay as his manager. Since he was 9p overdrawn at the bank at the time, it bounced. Blackwell's balance in a HSBC account was £179 at best and he had just a few pence in a savings account. Instead, he withdrew £9,000 from a fixed-rate account – opened for him by his parents to support him through university – and used it to buy a new £6,600 Ford Ka for Ms Saba.

But his mother found out and was furious, ordering him to telephone his girlfriend and ask for the car back. Ms Saba was upset and, after her mother intervened, offered to pay him back. On Blackwell's insistence she kept the car, but the incident left its mark. "His parents were getting in the way of his grandiose vision for himself and Amal," said Robert Steer QC, for the prosecution.

Undeterred, Blackwell tried to secure a Visa card, telling Barclays Bank he was a professional tennis player earning £45,000 a year and needed credit because he was to play in the French Open championships. Again, his mother got wind of the plan, visited the bank's branch manager and put a stop to it.

Blackwell's lies – including claims he had bought a £450,000 flat in a complex shared by the Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard – continued unabated. But in May he asked Ms Saba to accompany him to a Miami tennis tournament, enabling them to holiday in New York. It was lie that proved "a little more difficult to perpetuate", said Mr Steer.

Ms Saba and her mother, a doctor, were sceptical but their internet checks confirmed a booking for the Plaza Hotel. With time running out and no apparent funds, Blackwell used his father's credit card at 11.20am on Sunday 25 July, to buy two one-way business class tickets for the following morning's 5.42am Manchester-New York flight. He visited the tennis club with his father that morning, but within hours he approached him as he sat in his armchair and stabbed him so violently in the head and body that police initially thought he had been shot. Blackwell then killed his mother in a similar fashion.

Holiday photographs suggest the US trip, which began hours after the killings, passed off happily. It included stops in Florida, Barbados, San Francisco and New York. Blackwell returned to Britain on 12 August, telling neighbours his parents were at their villa in Majorca. He spent the summer at Ms Saba's house.

A desperate attempt to get local youths to burn his parents' bungalow failed and eventually, the smell of decomposing bodies alerted neighbours. They called police and Blackwell was arrested. He maintained his innocence for a day and a half before confessing. "Is prison cold?" he asked.

Blackwell wept in the dock yesterday as a letter from him was read out. "Every moment of every day, I wish I could turn back the hands of time," it read. "I eternally long to be a little boy again at a time when everyone really loved each other, when we could have a happy time and be a family once more."

Disorder that feeds on self-obsession

Like Narcissus who, as Greek myth has it, fell in love with his reflection, sufferers from narcissistic personality disorder have an unhealthy sense of grandiosity, and become obsessed with a fantasy of their success, power and capacity for love.

But people with the disorder may be extremely sensitive to criticism, or to any kind of defeat. When confronted by a failure to fulfil their high opinion of themselves they can easily become enraged or severely depressed.

Barry George, the killer of the TV presenter Jill Dando, was a serial fantasist who had the disorder. He posed as an SAS soldier, pretended to be a professional stuntman and insisted he was the cousin of Freddie Mercury, late lead singer of Queen.

John Hinckley, who shot the late US President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty of attempted murder on the grounds of insanity because he had the condition. Sufferers believe they are superior to others, expect to be admired and often suspect that others envy them.

They feel they are entitled to have their needs attended to without waiting, so they exploit others whose needs are deemed to be less important. People with the condition talk about themselves, their work and their lives as if there is no one else in the picture.

They ignore or denigrate the contributions of others and complain that they receive no help. They lack sympathy and empathy and will use other people to get what they want without caring about the cost. Their behaviour is usually offensive, self-centred and arrogant.

Jeremy Laurance