Belfast Telegraph

Southern Trust Chief admits 'opportunities were missed' after family claim failings contributed to murder of pensioners

'Our emergency departments are not prisons'

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery
Michael and Marjorie Cawdery

Southern Health and Social Care Trust Chief Executive Shane Devlin has admitted the Trust missed opportunities to intervene following the conviction of Thomas McEntee for the murder of two Co Armagh pensioners.

The family of Mike and Majorie Cawdery have said that the trust must bear responsibility for their deaths.

Mr and Mrs 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.

Mr Devlin became head of the Southern Trust in March of this year, having previously worked as the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.

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

The victims' son-in-law Charles Little said the minimum term of 10 years was "totally inadequate".

He also called the deaths "avoidable" and said the Southern 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.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Good Morning Ulster programme Mr Devlin did not answer when asked if he was considering resigning over the case.

He extended his sympathies to the Cawdery family but said the killings were impossible to predict.

Thomas McEntee
Thomas McEntee

"It was clear in court yesterday, the judge in his ruling convicted Mr McEntee and it is clear that the events of that day were unpredictable," he said.

"However, I do respect the opinion of Mr Little and the Cawdery family that there were opportunities, we've looked at the pathway of Mr McEntee and there were opportunities that we will learn with.

"None of which clinicians would agree that we could predict what the outcome would be but we want to look at what happened and make sure that we reduce the chance of it ever happening again."

Mr Devlin said that he accepted opportunities had been missed in the case of Mr McEntee. 

"I bear responsibility for making sure we have very, very good process for dealing with people with mental illness," the trust chief said.

"We have carried out a serious adverse incident review and that has identified in the days running up to the event there were opportunities when Mr McEntee presented himself to our emergency department in Daisy Hill and if we had different processes in place we may have been able to do something different."

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

It was noted that Mr McEntee was seen naked walking in the area on the day of the killings and was taken to Daisy Hill but was not admitted to the hospital.

"He wasn't admitted and we've looked at this, clinicians in Daisy Hill were of the opinion that if he needed an in-patient bed and given his behaviour of that morning, they believed he would need an in-patient bed, this was only available in Craigavon so it was decided to request an ambulance to take him there," Mr Devlin said.

Mr McEntee was then taken to Craigavon in an ambulance with a police escort.

"It was a red flag, he was not being transferred under mental health legislation or being detained. We wanted to get him to the best place for care," he said.

Mr McEntee got up and left while waiting to be assessed in the emergency department at Craigavon Area Hospital.

"It's a very difficult situation, our emergency departments are not prisons. He was about to have blood taken and absconded, our teams in the emergency department then contacted the police to notify them after half an hour. Our emergency departments are not prisons and this gentleman was not being restrained he was there to seek assistance and help," Mr Devlin said.

"I have apologised to the Cawdery family on a number of occasions for anything the Southern Trust did or didn't do that had an impact on their lives, we do not want to cause harm to anyone.

"We will participate fully in any inquest and we have agreed to facilitate a review of the whole event from a family's perspective and the impact on the family and what we in the trust could have done to support the family."

When asked if he was considering resigning from his position, Mr Devlin would not be drawn. He said: "There was no risk assessment that could have predicted the outcome of this event and to be perfectly honest in terms of mental health and homicide it happens across the world, but it is very, very rare," he said.

"What we are trying to do is to put systems in place so that the chances of that is very, very small."

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