Damien Bendall: Exposed - the missed chances to prevent 'psychopathic' criminal from killing four people

Probation officers made a series of failings before a "psychopathic" criminal murdered three children and his pregnant partner, a watchdog has said.

Damien Bendall killed his 35-year-old girlfriend Terri Harris, her 11-year-old daughter Lacey Bennett, her 13-year-old son John Paul Bennett, and Lacey's 11-year-old friend Connie Gent in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, in September 2021.

They were attacked with a claw hammer, and Bendall also admitted raping Lacey.

He is now serving a whole-life order for the murders, but a review has found that the Probation Service's handling of Bendall was of an "unacceptable standard" at every stage - and "critical opportunities" to correct errors were missed.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said the Probation Service's handling of Bendall, from court to within the community, "fell far below what was required" - and he was handled by "insufficiently qualified and experienced" officers.

Bendall was living under curfew with Ms Harris and her children, despite previous convictions for violent crime, and allegations of domestic abuse made by a former partner.

He was on probation serving a suspended prison sentence for arson - and gave Ms Harris's address for his curfew order.

But the probation officers dealing with the case did not ask Ms Harris if she consented to him giving her address, nor did they visit the house to assess the levels of risk.

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 - prompting Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to order a review.

Police had evidence he 'held a sexual risk of harm to girls'

Mr Russell's report revealed a plethora of missed opportunities by probation officers, which led to "serious consequences".

This includes how Bendall's records showed allegations of domestic abuse made against him by an ex-partner - and that Wiltshire Police's child sexual exploitation unit had contacted probation as they had evidence that he held a "sexual risk of harm to girls".

According to the report, officers at the time were focused on Bendall's violence behind bars and extreme right-wing views after he claimed that he was a high-ranking member of a white supremacist group.

As a result, the report said intelligence about the risk of "serious sexual harm" was "not explored or recorded sufficiently" to inform checks to help keep children safe.

Despite the killer admitting to using Class A drugs and alcohol - and "frequently" taking money from his family to fuel his addiction - this information was not escalated to a manager and the risk to partners and children continued to be assessed as low.

Decisions taken by officers were put down to their lack of experience. The report said officers "should not have been exposed to cases such as (Bendall's) at this stage in their careers".

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Making 17 recommendations for improvement, Mr Russell said: "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 added that this case was the "most concerning" of his tenure - and the parents of Ms Harris and Connie Gent were "shocked" by the findings.

In a statement, prisons and probation minister Damian Hinds confirmed that disciplinary action has already been taken against two members of staff, and added: "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.

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