Northern Ireland news

Family of killed elderly couple accept health service apology

Michael and Marjorie Cawdery were killed in their home
Seanín Graham

THE family of an elderly Co Armagh couple killed by a mentally ill man last night welcomed what they described as a "very honest and fair apology" from the chief of the health service about the "avoidable deaths".

Relatives of Michael and Marjorie Cawdery yesterday met for the first time with Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary as the Department of Health to discuss the serious failings in the case.

Mr and Mrs Cawdery, who were both 83, were stabbed to death in their Portadown home in a "frenzied attack" by paranoid schizophrenic Thomas McEntee in May 2017. He admitted manslaughter.

The couple's daughter, Wendy and her husband, Charles Little, had made the request to meet with Mr Pengelly in his capacity overall chief executive of the Health and Social Care (HSC) system to ask about the "shambolic" management of an initial health service review, from which they were excluded.

A damning second review (a level 3 Serious Adverse Incident), which the family demanded, was released three weeks ago and concluded that although the killings "could not have been predicted", they "could have been avoided".

Speaking after yesterdays afternoon's lengthy meeting, Mr Little said: "It's taken two years but we are very happy with Mr Pengelly's apology. It was very honest and fair, there was no if's or buts.

"He admitted Mike and Marjorie's death could have been avoided and should have avoided."

In a statement, the department confirmed that Mr Pengelly had made a "full apology" on behalf of the entire HSC system, "for the failings and handling of this very tragic case and deeply regrets the distress and pain caused to all those who have been adversely affected".

"He acknowledged that, as the SAI clearly states, while the events could not have been predicted, they could - and indeed should - have been avoided.

"The Health and Social Care (HSC) system is carefully considering the independent Level 3 Serious Adverse Incident (SAI) review report carried out into the circumstances resulting in the deaths of Mr Michael and Mrs Marjorie Cawdery on 26th May 2017.

"It is fully recognised and accepted that there were missed opportunities and failings, as identified in the Level 3 report, in Mr McEntee’s care.

"Likewise, it is also clear that there were unacceptable deficiencies in the first SAI report, including the failure to engage directly with family members.

"HSC leaders (including Department of Health, Health and Social Care Board, Public Health Agency, Trusts and RQIA) will be holding detailed discussions on the recommendations from the independent SAI report.

"These deliberations will cover the steps needed to enhance mental health provision in Northern Ireland; ways to reduce the risk of something similar happening in the future; and improvements to SAI processes including better engagement with families.

"The Department is committed to an ongoing process of engagement with the family and others affected by similar circumstances."

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