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Northern Ireland health trust facing questions over hospital security in wake of double murder

By Victoria Leonard

A man will appear in court today over the stabbing to death of an elderly couple in Portadown.

Police said the 40-year-old has been charged with the murders of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, aggravated burglary and aggravated vehicle-taking.

He will appear at Lisburn Magistrates Court.

The pensioners, who were both 83, were found by their daughter after the knife attack at their Upper Ramone Park home.

It is believed that a man arrested in connection with the case had been taken to Craigavon Area Hospital for treatment earlier on the day of the murder.

It was reported at the weekend that the same man was spotted walking naked around Newry on Friday morning before being taken to the hospital.

Neighbours of the deceased couple told the Belfast Telegraph at the weekend that the community had lived in fear of patients escaping from the hospital for years.

Yesterday, DUP Westminster candidate David Simpson said he had met with the PSNI to call for greater security to address residents' fears. He plans to meet with the Southern Trust today to discuss safety concerns.

He said that there was "a lot of fear" in the community following the attack, particularly as the neighbourhood was linked to the hospital by a public pathway.

Locals say the pathway is accessible from a gate at the hospital that is permanently open.

"We will be asking the trust what action they plan to take to reassure the local community, although it's a wee bit like the horse has bolted - measures should have been in place a long time ago," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Residents have raised concerns about security at the hospital on a number of occasions over the years. There have been a number of incidents of people coming from the hospital, and these issues will be on the table for discussion.

"This is an area full of elderly people and families, and there is a school just 100 metres away. We need to go through the process of closing the gaps in security.

"There is a gate at the back of the hospital which leads on to the pathway behind the houses, and as well as the trust closing that, the residents would like to see a community gate for exclusive use by residents put on another entry way. It's a development of only 20 to 25 homes, so it's not much to ask for.

"Police have said that they will increase patrols in the area, and the cordons are still up, but we will see what happens over the next few days.

"I would like to see police patrols stepped up not just there, but everywhere across the constituency."

Mr Simpson is also calling for the trust to provide an account of what happened after the patient was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital.

"The police told us they did everything they had to do, and it's up to the trust now to give an explanation of why he was allowed to leave the hospital," he said.

"We will be meeting with the trust today and we want to know if the man had been assessed by psychiatrists and what was the outcome - was he put in a category, perceived to be a danger or a moderate risk?"

Meanwhile, the Rev Gary Galway of Drumcree Parish Church, who knows the Cawdery family, said that funeral arrangements had yet to be finalised due to the ongoing police investigation.

"Michael and Marjorie were just a lovely couple. They were devoted to each other and to their family.

"They had different personalities but they very much complemented each other, they were perfect for each other," he said.

"One of their daughters is a key person in our church, a diocesan lay reader who goes around the diocese, takes services and does preaching.

"Michael and Marjorie weren't members of the parish but they would have attended services on key events like Christmas and Harvest, and they were very proud of their daughter and their whole family. It has only been a few days since it happened so the family are still very much in shock, they are a close family. I have been providing support to the family, but at times like this you wonder if you can do any more."

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust said: "The trust has strict protocols in place for when a patient absconds from Craigavon Area Hospital, part of which involves contacting the police."

Regarding the residents' request for the gate leading from the hospital to the path behind the houses to be closed, it said: "The trust constantly reviews the access and egress to the Craigavon Area Hospital Site."

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