Watchdog finds probation failings over Killamarsh killer Damien Bendall | Prisons and probation

A “psychopathic” and racist criminal murdered three children and his pregnant partner after a series of failings within the Probation Service, a damning report by a watchdog has found.

The chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, said the organisation’s assessment and supervision of Damien Bendall was of an “unacceptable standard” at every stage and “critical opportunities” to correct errors were missed.

The report pointed to a lack of qualified probation officers and managers with too many responsibilities to provide effective oversight for less experienced staff. Bendall’s case was one of 10 being managed by a staff member who had yet to complete basic training, it revealed.

Bendall, 33, is serving a whole-life order for the murders of Terri Harris, 35, her daughter Lacey Bennett, 11, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11, after he attacked them with a claw hammer at their home in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, in September 2021. He also admitted raping Lacey.

Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, ordered a review of how probation staff had supervised Bendall when it emerged he had a string of convictions and a history of violence before the killings.

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

The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Bendall “at every stage” was of an “unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required”, he said.

A probation officer who assessed Bendall’s previous criminal record has been sacked for gross misconduct and another member of staff suspended.

Published on Tuesday after Bendall was sentenced last month, Russell’s report listed errors and missed opportunities that led to him being wrongly categorised as a low-risk offender and supervised by inexperienced staff.

Records showed a former partner had made allegations of domestic abuse against him that had not been properly recorded and passed on to other authorities. Police also contacted the probation services 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”.

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.

With a “significant” history of crime dating to 2004, Bendall was first recorded as being supervised by probation in 2011, according to Russell.

Despite previous convictions for robbery and grievous bodily harm, he was handed a 24-month suspended sentence for arson just months before carrying out the murders.

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

“It is possible that, had a holistic assessment been provided to court (including his pattern of offending against Asian men, use of callous and organised violence against prison staff, an analysis of previous noncompliance and the most recent high risk of serious harm assessments), an immediate, rather than suspended, prison sentence might have been imposed,” the report said.

Responding to the report, the prisons and probation minister, Damian Hinds, said the chief probation officer had apologised to the victims’ families and information sharing had improved.

“The extra funding of £155m 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,” he said.

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