Belfast Telegraph

Portadown couple's son-in-law came face-to face with killer

 

By Allan Preston

The son-in-law of an elderly couple slaughtered by a mentally ill man has told how he came face-to-face with the killer moments after the brutal attack.

Mike and Marjorie Cawdery, both aged 83, were beaten and stabbed to death in their Portadown home by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee (41) on May 26 last year.

The couple's family also told how security staff chased a naked McEntee - who had cuts on his arms - away from Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry on the morning of the killings.

Now Charles Little (66) has revealed how McEntee's drove his victims' stolen car at him.

On Friday McEntee received a life sentence for manslaughter, with a minimum jail term of 10 years.

After killing the Cawderys in a frenzied attack using several knives, McEntee walked outside their Upper Ramone Park home where their unsuspecting son-in-law was getting ready to paint a garden shed.

"I came face-to-face with him and he tried to run me down - deliberately or not I don't know," said Mr Little.

"He came walking from round the back of Mike and Marjorie's house holding the car keys in his hand." Mr Little assumed McEntee, appearing normal and calm, was a mechanic looking at his father-in-law's vehicle.

"The dogs were barking at him, I called them off. But there was something about him," he said.

"I just asked: 'Are you all right?'. He wouldn't look me in the eye and muttered something.

"I got the dogs off and he just walked calm as you like over to the car, got in and started it and revved the engine and shot two feet forward into the wall, then shot back in high reverse.

"At this point I realised something was horribly wrong."

As he ran to warn Mr Cawdery, McEntee drove straight at him.

"I had to leap out of the way and he crashed through the gates and sped off down the road.

"We also know in hindsight now that when I spoke to him he had a knife down his trousers. It could have been worse."

McEntee visited hospitals on four occasions in the days before the shocking attack, and the family blame the Southern Health Trust for the deaths as much as him.

They now say they pity McEntee, and that he was "failed at every turn" by the trust.

The family also feel let down by his 10-year sentence.

"We pity him... there's no excusing what he did, but he did try to get help and he was failed at every turn," said Mr Little. He was joined at the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown by his wife Wendy Little Cawdery (50), daughter Tasha Little (21), Wendy's brother Graham Cawdery (52) and family friend Matthew Owens (21).

Wendy said: "Since that day all we've been able to try and do is manage the images that come back."

Tasha is studying psychology at Dundee University but felt unable to cope and is repeating her third year in September.

"Personally, I have the same level of blame towards the Southern Health Trust as I have towards McEntee," she said. "I agree absolutely," her father said.

Graham Cawdery had to take unpaid time away from work since losing his parents.

"It's affected everything. I returned to work not too long after it happened, which did help somewhat. But it's just got worse for me, so much that I've had to leave for a few months to try and get myself sorted out," he said.

Mr Little said the deaths of Mr and Mrs Cawdery were "completely avoidable".

"There was a chain of events leading up to this. McEntee, to give him his due, was going for help and he did not get it," he said. Last week Southern Health Trust chief executive Shane Devlin said that no assessment could have predicted what happened and that mental health wards were not jails. "They're not prisons, but they are meant to be places of safety for the mentally ill," said Mr Little.

"It's also not that rare an occurrence.

"In the UK, on average, there's 100 homicides by mental health patients every year.

"McEntee went to hospitals four times in the days before the attack.

"On the morning of May 26, 2017, he appeared naked at Daisy Hill Hospital. What they don't tell you in the SAI (serious adverse incidents) report is the reason McEntee was outside Daisy Hill that morning was that he had presented himself to the emergency department naked and with cuts to his arms.

"The next thing that happened is that the hospital security staff came charging through the door.

"So you had Keystone Kop types chasing this naked man round the hospital, but then chased out of the hospital.

"That's why he was outside - he presented himself to the emergency department and he was chased out."

Mr Little said the family believed McEntee should have been assessed on site rather than being "carted off" to Craigavon Area Hospital. Later that day McEntee left the hospital and stole a bottle of wine from an off-licence, before breaking into the Cawderys' home and launching the savage attack.

All of the family said they feel cheated that McEntee's various sentences are running concurrently in one 10-year term.

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.

Graham said: "It's just a farce. It basically says if you're going to commit a crime you might as well go out and commit as many as you can in one go."

Tasha added: "The thought that someone else can make that choice to release him doesn't sit well with me."

Wendy said: "He may never be let out but now we have 10 years to sit and wait. It's horrifying - would you want that man living next door to you?"

The family have demanded a full inquest and are meeting the coroner next month.

The Southern Health Trust said the decision to take McEntee to Craigavon Hospital was based on what those present thought was most appropriate, as the trust's mental health facility is on the Craigavon site.

Mr Devlin said the SAI review had been shared with the family and had already identified missed opportunities and ways to improve future safety and care.

The trust has also agreed to a further wide-ranging review of how it can engage and meaningfully involve victims' family members in future SAI reviews.

Mr Devlin added: "The trust will work with the Cawdery family to ensure that the lessons learned over the last year in relation to this issue are shared widely throughout health and social care."

Belfast Telegraph

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