Belfast Telegraph

Family of couple killed by mentally ill man welcome apology from Health Department

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery
Michael and Marjorie Cawdery
Thomas McEntee
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

The family of a Portadown couple killed by a paranoid schizophrenic have welcomed an apology from Northern Ireland's top health official.

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, both 83, were beaten and stabbed to death in their own homes in May 2017 by Thomas McEntee (41) after he walked out of a hospital ward.

Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly offered a full apology during a meeting with the Cawdery family yesterday and agreed the deaths, although unpredictable, should have been avoided.

The victim's son-in-law Charles Little said it was a "very sincere and honest apology".

He added that although McEntee "can't be forgiven for what he did", that he too had been let down by the health service.

During the meeting the family discussed organising mental health processes on a province-wide basis and improving the Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) process.

"That's being looked at seriously and hopefully enough progress will be made to get something up and running to make sure that people like ourselves aren't treated in the same way while we're waiting," said Mr Little.

The family also raised the issue of a duty of candour from the health service, meaning it should be more proactive in seeking the truth after serious lapses.

"The department have agreed that they will have follow-up meetings with us to discuss these matters further," said Mr Little. "Most importantly, we requested at follow-up meetings they include other families in our situation."

A second review into the deaths published this year concluded that the Cawderys' deaths "could not have been predicted but could have been avoided".

The family had reacted angrily to the first review, which found "no factors" in how the authorities at the time handled the case that led to the deaths.

Mr Little said the failure of the authorities to engage with them had been "traumatising in the extreme". "It made the whole thing much worse than it should have been. They opposed us and tried to shut us out. They did the wrong thing and I think they realise that now," he said.

Regarding McEntee, he said: "The man was ill, the man was going to the hospitals to try and get help. He knew he was ill and he was doing the right thing.

"You can't forgive what he did, but at the end of the day he was an ill man and he shouldn't have been put in the position he was. That needs to be thought of long and hard by the health service in how they deal with that."

He said the family was optimistic about future change but would be judging the department on its actions.

A spokesperson from the Department said Mr Pengelly offered "a full apology on behalf of the entire Health and Social Care (HSC) system, for the failings and handling of this very tragic case and deeply regrets the distress and pain caused to all those who have been adversely affected".

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