Terrified witnesses called the police after seeing a man with a samurai sword in a residential Whitehawk street.

But the man accused of carrying the weapon said it was a family heirloom.

Michael Tongeman, of Whitehawk Crescent, Brighton, was arrested when armed officers besieged his home after he was spotted carrying the sword in Manor Hill.

Terrified onlookers called the police after seeing a man carrying the three foot long blade. But Mr Tongeman claimed he was a seriously ill man trying to bring his family heirlooms home.

Mr Tongeman, 31, told The Argus: “I am very ill. I’ve got a brain tumour and bone cancer. I was bringing the sword back from my mate’s place and someone reported it.

“I was just carrying it home. I tried to put it in my jumper. I’ve got two. They were my father’s. I had already got one of them then I came back for the other one.

“It was a samurai sword. They are ornamental and blunt. They were my father’s and he died here.

“This is the only thing I’ve got left. I’m home all the time because I’m ill.

“My dogs were taken away and had to be put down. It was a shock to see armed police in my garden and they were shouting ‘put your hands up’.”

Mr Tongeman said that his home had been burgled while he was in hospital.

“I’ve always been nothing but helpful to the police and this is the last thing I need.”

Possession of any article made or adapted for causing injury to the person is a criminal offence for which offenders can be sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Under the law a samurai sword, with a curved blade of 50cm or longer, is automatically considered an offensive weapon.

However anyone showing they probably have a lawful or reasonable excuse to carry the blade could be acquitted by a court.

A spokeswoman for Sussex Police said: “Police were called to Manor Hill, Brighton, at 11.05am on Monday to reports a man had been seen with a sword. Officers attended the scene and arrested the suspect at his house. Firearms officers also surrounded the house.”

Tongeman was charged with possessing cannabis and possessing an offensive weapon. He was released on bail and ordered to appear at Brighton Magistrates’ Court on September 5.