Northern Ireland news

Inquest ordered into 'avoidable' killings of elderly couple

Charles Little, son-in-law Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, leads the family out of Laganside Court following yesterday's hearing. An inquest into the couple's killings will take place in 2021. Picture by Hugh Russell
Seanín Graham

THE family of an elderly couple who were killed by a mentally ill patient has welcomed a coroner's decision to order an inquest into the tragedy - saying they hope it will address "unanswered questions".

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, who were both 83, were stabbed to death in their Portadown home in a "frenzied attack" by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee two years ago.

It emerged that McEntee, who was seen naked on the day of the killings and presented himself to Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, had sought medical help on four occasions in the days before the tragedy.

At a hearing in Belfast Laganside court yesterday, coroner Paddy McGurgan admitted he was unsure about "whether or not there should be an inquest" but "on balance" felt there are "issues that could be explored", stressing the scope would be "narrow".

Mr McGurgan addressed the Cawdery family, who were all present in the courtroom, saying he recognised they were "extremely traumatised" by the killings and "the events that unfolded post-death" - noting they had been unable to grieve due to concerns about the NHS handling of the case.

"I do not want the thought of an inquest adding to their grief and trauma," he said.

The coroner referred to the impact of a health service report, known as a Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) review, which was dismissed by the family as "shambolic" and who demanded that a new report was carried out.

The second review concluded that while the horrific deaths of the pensioners "could not have been prevented", they "could have been avoided".

A solicitor representing the Cawderys, Paddy Mullarkey, yesterday told the court he had spoken to them at length and insisted they are "absolutely interested in seeing an inquest proceed".

Acknowledging there had been an "substantive" second investigation by the health service, Mr Mullarkey said however there were areas omitted from the SAI including the interaction between police and health trusts in relation to the monitoring of McEntee.

"I appreciate the scope of this inquest will be narrow...but it reflects the needs of the family and answers the questions that remain unanswered at this point," he said.

In June last year, McEntee was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison.

He will not be compelled to give evidence at the inquest but will be "invited to attend", according to Mr McGurgan.

The coroner said that due to volume of cases he was currently dealing with - he has committed to inquests for all of next year - the earliest date for a hearing would be 2021.

"I appreciate it's probably of some upset that we can't address it sooner but I hope the family understand my position" Mr McGurgan said.

Following yesterday's hearing, the couple's daughter, Wendy Little Cawdery, said the inquest represented "another step forward".

Her husband, Charles Little, who was the first person to discover the couple's bodies, added: "We need to have important unanswered questions answered".

Another preliminary hearing will take place in early December.

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