Portadown pensioners’ deaths were ‘avoidable’

Marjorie and Michael Cawdery.
Marjorie and Michael Cawdery.

An independent panel has found the killing of an elderly Portadown couple by a man with severe mental health issues could have been avoided.

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, both 83, were attacked by Thomas Scott McEntee, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, in their Upper Ramone Park home in 2017.

Their deaths sent shock waves through the community and led to a lengthy battle by their family for the truth behind them. The fresh investigation - after the family rejected the original one as “offensive and botched” - found that McEntee’s actions on the day the Cawderys died occurred in “the context of a significant deterioration” in his mental health.

In the 95-page document, the panel, appointed by the health authorities, has now concluded the deaths “could not have been predicted but could have been avoided”.

The couple’s daughter, Wendy Little Cawdery and her husband, Charles Little, lived next door to her parents and were first to discover the bodies of the retired scientist and his wife after the brutal attack in the quiet suburb.

Mr Little told the Irish News: “To actually see that their deaths were ‘avoidable’ in black and white... on the one hand it was victory for us but on the other it made your blood run cold.”

Dismissing the first Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) report as a timeline, Mr Little added: “We insisted they should do the review again and investigate what had gone wrong because it was offensive, it was the most awful document and didn’t tie up with some of the evidence.

“We’re satisfied that the truth appears to have come out... the new SAI concurs with our view there were opportunities missed that could have averted the deaths.”

Ms Little Cawdery said: “You shouldn’t have to go through all this to get to the answers, if it wasn’t for Charles and the rest of the family being able to decipher the nonsense... we would never had got to this point with the truth.”

In June 2018, McEntee, who had a given an address in Kilkeel but was in a Belfast mental health facility when sentenced, received a minimum of 10 years in prison after admitting manslaughter.

The court case heard authorities missed chances to take him off the streets. He was seen naked walking in Newry on the day of the killings and presented himself to Daisy Hill hospital but was not admitted. He travelled from Newry to Craigavon Area Hospital in an ambulance with a police escort but got up and left while waiting to be assessed in the A&E department. Shortly afterwards, McEntee was in the Cawdery home, which is near the hospital.

The Health and Social Care services (HSC) said it will carefully consider the recommendations of the panel.

In a statement to the Portadown Times, a spokesperson said: “The thoughts of Health and Social Care system (HSC) are with the Cawdery family following the tragic events of 26th May 2017, and we continue to offer our sincere condolences at their loss.

“An independent panel was appointed to conduct a Level 3 Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) review. This work is complete and has been shared with the families affected by this tragic event.

“The HSC will now take time to carefully consider the report and its recommendations and will involve the families in this process.

“We fully recognise the enormous distress the families affected by this tragedy have suffered and we would unreservedly apologise for this.

“It is essential we learn from this tragic incident and put steps in place to reduce the risk of the possibility of something similar happening in the future. There is also a commitment to ensuring we enhance how we engage with all impacted families affected in these difficult circumstances.”