Killamarsh murders: watchdog finds serious probation failings over ‘psychopathic’ killer Damien Bendall

Damien Bendall, who killed four people and raped an 11 year old girl, was allowed to stay at home despite having domestic risks

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A watchdog has found failings "at every stage" in a review into how a quadruple murderer was dealt with by probation officers.

The litany of failings meant murderer and violent rapist Damien Bendall was deemed suitable to live with his pregnant partner and her two children, who he killed together - along with another child.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said the Probation Service’s handling of Bendall was of an “unacceptable standard” at every stage and “critical opportunities” to correct errors were missed.

Bendall, 33, murdered Terri Harris, who was pregnant with his child, at her home in Killamarsh in Derbyshire in September 2021. He also killed her daughter Lacey Bennett, 11, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11. They were attacked with a claw hammer and Bendall admitted raping Lacey. He was jailed in December and is serving a whole-life order.

Making 17 recommendations for improvement, Mr Russell told reporters the case was “the most concerning” of his tenure and said the parents of Ms Harris and Connie Gent were “shocked” by the findings.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab ordered a review of how probation staff had supervised Bendall after it emerged he had a string of convictions and a history of violence before the killings.

Bendall was on probation serving a 24 month suspended prison sentence for arson, despite previous convictions for robbery and grievous bodily harm, just months before carrying out the murders.

Bendall gave Ms Harris’s address for his curfew order but no attempt was made to speak to her or visit the property. Mr Russell said there is no evidence that “essential” domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks were carried out by the probation officers making this decision, as he agreed that no mandatory requirement to do so was “extraordinary”.

The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Bendall “at every stage” was of an “unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required”. Two members of staff faced disciplinary action over the case.

Mr Russell’s report reveals the failings began in June 2021 when Bendall was being sentenced for arson at Swindon Crown Court. The probation officer, who was "relatively inexperienced", wrote a pre-sentence review - in which the quality was "very poor" - to help the judge decide the most suitable sentence.

Bendall was wrongly categorised as a low-risk offender but records show an ex-partner had made allegations of domestic abuse against him and police also contacted probation a year before the attacks, amid concern about his association with a 16-year-old girl who was in foster care.

The intelligence about the risk of “serious sexual harm” he could pose to girls was “not explored or recorded sufficiently” to inform checks to help keep children safe, according to the findings. One probation officer questioned by inspectors, who was involved with Bendall’s case in 2016 described him as “cold and calculated and quite psychopathic”.

Bendall has a “significant” history of crime dating back to 2004 and is first recorded as being supervised by probation in 2011 – more than a decade before the killings.

A string of failings 

Terri Harris (top left), Lacey Bennett (top right), John Paul Bennett (bottom left), Connie Gent (bottom right)Terri Harris (top left), Lacey Bennett (top right), John Paul Bennett (bottom left), Connie Gent (bottom right)
Terri Harris (top left), Lacey Bennett (top right), John Paul Bennett (bottom left), Connie Gent (bottom right)

The watchdog found that at that time probation teams had been focused on Bendall’s extreme right-wing views and violence behind bars, rather than the risk of domestic harm.

The report also detailed how Bendall, a one-time cage fighter, repeatedly claimed he was a high-ranking member of a white supremacist group called Aryan Brotherhood and described having two Nazi-inspired tattoos.

But inspectors found “no evidence” that probation officers carried out checks with police to establish whether this was true after he was recorded as being prone to telling “grandiose stories”, the report said.

The “very poor” probation report provided to the court for sentencing “significantly misrepresented” the risk Bendall posed to others, Mr Russell said.

Bendall was classed as posing a medium risk of serious harm to the public and a low risk of posing serious harm to partners and children.However, Mr Russell said he was “clearly of high risk” and the decision had “serious consequences”.

It was “possible” that, had an accurate report been provided to the court, Bendall may have been jailed immediately, although Mr Russell said it was “impossible to know” whether the deaths could have been prevented if the probation failings had been identified and rectified earlier.

He blamed the failures on a mixture of inexperienced staff who lacked professional curiosity and “heavily overloaded” line managers.

Describing Bendall as a “very controlling personality”, Mr Russell said it is vital such criminals are supervised by experienced probation officers, adding: “He controlled Terri Harris and he controlled the more inexperienced probation officers that were supervising him.”

Prisons and probation minister Damian Hinds said: “These were appalling crimes. The chief probation officer has apologised to the victims’ families for the unacceptable failings in this case and disciplinary action has been taken against two members of staff.”

He added: “The extra funding of £155 million a year we have put into the Probation Service is being used to recruit thousands more frontline staff and to ensure domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks are always carried out before any offender is given a curfew.

“The Probation Service has also improved information sharing with police and councils, so no family is put at such significant risk again."