Northern Ireland

Cawdery killing: Elderly couple's deaths 'could have been avoided'

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Media captionHealth service treatment of family 'obscene'

The killing of an elderly couple in their home by a man with severe mental health issues could have been avoided, a report has found.

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, both 83, were attacked by Thomas Scott McEntee in Portadown, County Armagh, in 2017.

An independent panel, appointed by health authorities to investigate the deaths, has completed its work.

The Health and Social Care (HSC) system said it would learn from the "tragic incident".

The investigation found that McEntee's actions on the day the Cawderys died occurred in "the context of a significant deterioration" in his mental health.

It concluded that the deaths "could not have been predicted but could have been avoided".

A HSC spokesperson said it would work to reduce the risk of something similar happening in the future.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption McEntee was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing the couple

The couple's son-in-law Charles Little said it was "shattering" for the family to hear that the deaths were avoidable.

"We are also very angry that the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and the Health and Social Care Board have taken two years and two months to come to a conclusion that was obvious to the family by the end of June 2017," he added.

'Frenzied attack'

In June 2018, McEntee, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison.

The court case heard that authorities missed chances to take him off the streets.

McEntee had been causing a public nuisance in Warrenpoint, County Down, the day before the killings.

Police then took him to Newry train station, where McEntee said he planned to travel to Lurgan, County Armagh.

However, he did not board a train and instead broke into a garage in nearby Derrybeg Lane.

The next morning, police received reports about McEntee walking naked along the road between Bessbrook and Newry.

He was taken to the nearby Daisy Hill Hospital but was not admitted.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption McEntee left hospital and attacked the Cawdreys in their home nearby

Instead he was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital in an ambulance, with a police escort.

While waiting to be assessed in the emergency department, he got up and left.

A short time later, McEntee was in the Cawdery's home, which is near the hospital.

They died in what the court case heard was a sustained, frenzied and gratuitous attack, which included the use of six knives.

'No defence'

An independent panel was appointed to conduct a level three serious adverse incident (SAI) review and the findings were recently shared with the Cawdery family.

Mr Little said his family was "broadly content" with the investigation's conclusion.

But he added mental health patients need to be handled "carefully".

"The fact that the incident could not be predicted is no defence - it is the very unpredictability of behaviour of those mental health patients who lead chaotic lifestyles that means they must be handled very carefully if they are to remain in the community."

The HSC said it would consider the report and involve the family in the process.

"We fully recognise the enormous distress that the families affected by this tragedy have suffered and we would unreservedly apologise for this," it added.

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