The family of a couple killed by a man with severe mental health issues have received an apology from the top civil servant at the Department of Health.
Michael and Marjorie Cawdery, both 83, died in a “frenzied” knife attack in Portadown, County Armagh in April 2017.
They were stabbed to death by Thomas Scott McEntee, shortly after he walked out of a hospital emergency department.
Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly apologised for the health service’s “failings and handling” of his care.
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Mr Pengelly also expressed deep regret for “the distress and pain caused to all those who have been adversely affected”.
He acknowledged the findings of an independent report into the case, which found the couple’s deaths could not have been predicted but could have been avoided.
The couple’s son-in-law Charles Little said the family was “happy” with the apology as it “recognises that the deaths of Mike and Marjorie could have been avoided”.
“It also recognises that their patient, Thomas McEntee, should not have been put in that position where he is now serving a life sentence, and that both our family and his family should not have been traumatised in the way that we are,” he added.
The family has previously acknowledged that McEntee had sought help for his mental health problems “on numerous occasions to the various health trusts” before he carried out the killings.
They argued he had been failed as a patient when he turned to hospitals for assistance, and they also criticised the length of time it took for health authorities to investigate the case.
On Wednesday, Mr Little said the health and social care system “failed in their duty of care to us [and] failed in their duty of care to Thomas McEntee”.
“All they did for two years working against us was make us angry and keep us traumatised,” he said.
He added that health professionals “have to take mental health very, very seriously”.
The independent report found McEntee’s actions occurred in “the context of a significant deterioration” in his mental health.
McEntee, who has paranoid schizophrenia, broke into the couple’s home after walking out of the nearby Craigavon Area Hospital.
He had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance, with a police escort, and was waiting to be assessed in the emergency room when he got up and left.
Police had escorted him to the hospital days after he had been involved in a serious of incidents in County Down.
The incidents included causing a public nuisance in Warrenpoint, breaking into a garage in Newry, walking naked along Newry’s Millvale Road and being naked in the grounds of Daisy Hill Hospital.
Last year, McEntee pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr and Mrs Cawdery by reason of diminished responsibility.
The court was told the elderly couple had endured a sustained, frenzied attack and had been stabbed by multiple knives.
McEntee is serving a minimum of 10 years in prison.
On Wednesday, a Department of Health statement said it was “fully recognised and accepted that there were missed opportunities and failings” in Mr McEntee’s care.
It also conceded there had been “unacceptable deficiencies” in the first health service investigation into the incident, including the “failure to engage directly with family members”.