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Killing of James Hughes raises serious questions

James Hughes, described by his family as a 'peaceful and considerate individual' suffered an unimaginably horrific and brutal death in his own home in November 2016.

The 62-year-old was stabbed 33 times in his flat in Divis Tower, west Belfast by his neighbour, James Brendan Patrick Devine, a 44-year-old paranoid schizophrenic.

Devine also stole £6,000 cash from Mr Hughes then went to visit relatives in Ballymoney where he confessed to the killing over dinner.

His sister contacted the PSNI who went to Mr Hughes's flat where they found two knives and a trail of blood leading from the front door to the kitchen where they discovered his body.

This was a shockingly violent crime for which Devine was initially charged with murder, however a plea of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility was accepted by the prosecution.

It is particularly alarming to learn that this man has a history of violent offending, including the stabbing of two fellow residents at a hostel.

Mr Justice Colton sentenced Devine to a minimum of eight years in jail, adding that if and when he is released, safeguards will be imposed to protect the public.

There is clearly a serious issue for the authorities in terms of public protection where someone with severe mental health problems becomes violent.

This disturbing case comes just three months after Thomas Scott McEntee (41) was given a minimum ten year term for killing husband and wife Michael and Marjorie Cawdery.

The couple, both 83, were stabbed multiple times when they found McEntee in their Portadown home committing a burglary in May 2017.

Like Devine, McEntee suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

In both cases, relatives have criticised what they regard as failings by the authorities.

Mr Hughes's family said Devine was known to the police, the housing executive and social services as a 'highly dangerous and disruptive' person who had engaged in regular threats, assaults and anti-social behaviour after he was placed in Divis.

They believe not enough was done to protect the residents of Divis Tower and accuse the police of failing to conduct a meaningful investigation after complaints were made about his behaviour.

Clearly, in both cases, questions need to be asked about the provision of mental health services, particularly the monitoring and support of those with a propensity for violence.

The southern trust has admitted there were 'missed opportunities' in relation to its involvement with McEntee and certainly his behaviour in the period leading up to the killing of the Cawderys would have given significant cause for concern.

Ultimately, three people have lost their lives which tells us much more needs to be done to protect the public.

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