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Health chief in 'full apology' for failings in case which led to killings of Portadown pensioners

Marjorie and Michael Cawdery were stabbed to death in their home
Marjorie and Michael Cawdery were stabbed to death in their home
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland's most senior health official has offered a full apology for the failings and handling of a case which resulted in the killings of a Portadown couple.

Richard Pengelly said that while the events of May 2017 which led to the deaths of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery could not have been predicted they should have been avoided.

The family said they were "happy" with the apology. Son-in-law Charles Little described it as a "good apology" which recognised the deaths could have been avoided. They said the family of Thomas McEntee had also been let down.

The Cawderys, both 83, were beaten and stabbed to death in their own home by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee (41).

An independent panel, appointed by health authorities to investigate the deaths, found McEntee's actions on the day the Cawderys died occurred in "the context of a significant deterioration" in his mental health and concluded that the deaths "could not have been predicted but could have been avoided."

The family said they were "shattered" to learn the couple's deaths were avoidable and angry at the health authorities at the time.

This was the second review into the deaths. The first was rejected by the family after it concluded there were "no factors" in the health and social services' handling of McEntee which "caused or influenced" the deaths of the elderly couple.

The health service said it was "clear there were unacceptable deficiencies" in the first report and the family should have been consulted during its work.

The second report is being considered by the health service.

On Wednesday, Mr Pengelly offered a full apology on behalf of the entire Health and Social Care (HSC) system.

Richard Pengelly
Richard Pengelly

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "He acknowledged that, as the Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) clearly states, while the events could not have been predicted, they could - and indeed should - have been avoided.

"It is fully recognised and accepted that there were missed opportunities and failings, as identified in the Level 3 report, in Mr McEntee’s care.

"Likewise, it is also clear that there were unacceptable deficiencies in the first SAI report, including the failure to engage directly with family members.

"HSC leaders (including Department of Health, Health and Social Care Board, Public Health Agency, Trusts and RQIA) will be holding detailed discussions on the recommendations from the independent SAI report.

"These deliberations will cover the steps needed to enhance mental health provision in Northern Ireland; ways to reduce the risk of something similar happening in the future; and improvements to SAI processes including better engagement with families.

"The department is committed to an ongoing process of engagement with the family and others affected by similar circumstances."

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, both 83, were beaten and stabbed to death in May 2017 in their  by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee (41).

An independent panel, appointed by health authorities to investigate the deaths, found McEntee's actions on the day the Cawderys died occurred in "the context of a significant deterioration" in his mental health and concluded that the deaths "could not have been predicted but could have been avoided."

The family said they were "shattered" to learn the couple's deaths were avoidable and angry at the health authorities.

Thomas McEntee
Thomas McEntee
2018-07-04_new_42210406_I3.JPG
Charles Little speaks to the media on behalf of the Cawdery family outside Belfast Crown Court.

The court case heard authorities missed chances to take McEntree off the streets, including that he visited hospital four times in the days before the killings.

Early on the day of the killings, Friday, May 25, 2017 he turned up at his sister's house in Bessbrook and appeared to be injured.

After having food and two beers he left and was next seen naked on Millvale Road.

At around 10am Daisy Hill's mental health team reported a naked man shouting outside. After police restrained him and he was assessed, it was decided he should be transferred to Craigavon Area Hosptial.

While a nurse attempted to take blood, however, he left and made his way towards Bluestone mental health unit in Craigavon.

Shortly after midday, McEntee stole a bottle of wine from an off-licence before making his way to the Cawdery family home on Upper Ramone Park, Portadown.

After breaking into a car he gained entry into the unsuspecting pensioners' home.

By 12.40pm the PSNI was informed McEntee had left the hospital but he was already inside the Cawdery home by this point. The grandparents had been returning from their weekly shop when they were savagely killed with six knives.

Before leaving McEntee dressed in Mr Cawdery's clothes and took the car, which he soon crashed into two other vehicles.

Police arrested him later that day, standing in a field surrounded by cattle.

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