Killamarsh murders: Watchdog finds probation failings before Damien Bendall killed four

  • ITV News' Faye Barker reports on the review's findings and recommendations

A watchdog has laid bare a litany of failings by probation officers before a "psychopathic" criminal murdered his pregnant partner and three children.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said the Probation Service’s handling of Damien Bendall was of an "unacceptable standard" at every stage.

The 33-year-old is serving a whole-life order for the murders of 35-year-old Terri Harris, her 11-year-old daughter Lacey Bennett, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11, attacking them with a claw hammer at their home in Killamarsh, near Sheffield.

He also admitted raping Lacey.

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

Making 17 recommendations for improvement, Mr Russell said: "This was a deeply concerning case.

"The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Bendall at every stage, from initial court report to his supervision in the community, was of an unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required."

His report, published on Tuesday, revealed a catalogue of errors and missed opportunities – including how Bendall’s records showed an ex-partner had made allegations of domestic abuse against him and a police child sexual exploitation unit had contacted probation about him a year before the attacks.

Clockwise from top left: Connie Gent, John Paul and Lacey Bennett, and Terri Harris.

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".

The watchdog found that at that time probation teams had been focused on his 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 told of 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.

With a history of crime dating back to 2004, Bendall is first recorded as being supervised by probation in 2011 – more than a decade before the killings.

He had previous convictions for crimes including robbery, attempted robbery and grievous bodily harm.

Just months before carrying out the murders he was handed a 24-month suspended sentence for arson.

Probation staff decided Bendall was suitable to be subject to a curfew at home with Ms Harris after being sentenced for arson.

But officers "came to this wholly inappropriate conclusion without speaking to Ms Harris, visiting the property, conducting domestic abuse inquiries, or taking into account past domestic abuse claims", Mr Russell said.

Emergency services at the scene in Chandos Crescent, Killamarsh. Credit: PA Images

Bendall was classed as a posing a medium risk of serious harm to the public and a low risk of posing serious harm to partners and children – an assessment which Mr Russell concluded "underestimated the risks" posed, and "had serious consequences".

He added: "Probation managers and practitioners took the risk assessment from the court report as a given, and missed several opportunities to scrutinise and change it.

"If Bendall had been assessed as presenting a higher risk of serious harm – which would have been appropriate – it is unlikely a curfew order would have been deemed suitable and he would have been assigned to more experienced and confident probation officers."

He was then supervised by "insufficiently qualified and experienced" probation officers as a result, the watchdog found.

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