Belfast Telegraph

Cawdery family's anguish at length of prison term for killer who butchered elderly couple

Tasha Little, step-granddaughter, family friend Matthew Owens and grandson Alex Cawdery outside court after the verdict was delivered on the killing of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery by Thomas McEntee
Tasha Little, step-granddaughter, family friend Matthew Owens and grandson Alex Cawdery outside court after the verdict was delivered on the killing of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery by Thomas McEntee
Michael and Marjorie Cawdery
Thomas McEntee

By Allan Preston and Ashleigh McDonald

The family of an elderly Portadown couple brutally killed by a paranoid schizophrenic have blasted his "totally inadequate" jail sentence and demanded answers from the health trust that treated him.

Mike and Marjorie Cawdery, both aged 83, were subjected to a "frenzied, horrific and sustained attack" by Thomas McEntee (41) in their Upper Ramone Park home in May last year.

Yesterday he received a life sentence for the double manslaughter, with a minimum jail term of 10 years.

Appearing in the dock wearing black trousers and a white shirt, he spoke only to confirm his name and showed little reaction as his sentence was read out.

At the time of the attack he was living in a hostel in Kilkeel, and has since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

He admitted to two counts of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

Mr Justice Colton told the court that medically detaining McEntee, instead of a custodial sentence, was not appropriate.

While accepting he was in an "extremely disturbed mental state" and was "actively psychotic" at the time, he said "it must be remembered that we are dealing here with a double killing".

The victims' son-in-law Charles Little spoke on behalf of the family outside court yesterday.

"Mike and Marjorie were wonderful people. They were very much loved by the family and by all who knew them," he said.

"For them to have been slaughtered in the most savage and brutal way was not justice in any way, shape or form."

While welcoming the life sentence verdict, he said the minimum term of 10 years was "totally inadequate".

"This was two lives of two really good people brutally and savagely taken and that is just not acceptable. I know that there are sentences running concurrently but in real terms it looks like five years as a minimum, and that is just not justice."

Judges are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors, such as intent and excessive violence.

Mr Little (right) said the family accepted the judge had to recognise that McEntee was ill.

He also called the deaths "avoidable" and said the Southern Health Trust had a duty to answer questions about McEntee's care before the killings and demanded an inquest was held without delay.

"(McEntee) did not receive the help he wanted and in failing him they failed us, and Mike and Marjorie paid with their lives," he said.

The Southern Health Trust has already carried out a serious adverse incident review, but promised to review its actions again. Speaking after Mr Little, the trust's chief executive Shane Devlin apologised to the family, but said the ultimate responsibility was with McEntee.

"We as a trust will look at what we need to, to understand when there were opportunities that should have been taken which may have had an impact on the tragic events of that day," he said.

"What is clear is that there was no assessment that could have predicted that Mr McEntee would have gone on to carry out the horrific events."

In his sentencing remarks, the judge spoke of the effect the "tragic and traumatic" death has had on the family circle and noted their sense of bewilderment and helplessness as they struggle to cope with what happened.

He also noted McEntee's behaviour in the run-up to the double killing on May 26 last year, which included him being found naked in the grounds of Daisy Hill Hospital, being taken by ambulance to Craigavon Area Hospital, and leaving before a full assessment had taken place.

Hours later he broke into Mr and Mrs Cawdery's home and killed them using six knives. In the aftermath he dressed in Mr Cawdery's clothes and stole their car, which he then crashed into two other vehicles.

McEntee was arrested later that day, standing in a field surrounded by cattle.

The judge said McEntee had a "horrific upbringing" which included a history of hospital admissions, alcoholism, and non-engagement with mental health services.

He also revealed to the court that when discussing the deaths with the Probation Service, McEntee was "calm and unemotional", but recognised the grief and distress he had caused.

McEntee, who has been housed at a secure unit in Knockbracken Healthcare Clinic in south Belfast for several months, was told he will serve a minmum of 10 years in prison for the manslaughter of the couple before he is considered eligible for release.

Belfast Telegraph


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