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Appalling probation failure over murderer of 3 children and mother

Killamarsh murders: Damien Bendall arrested in 2021

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A murderer killed three children and his pregnant girlfriend had erroniously been categorised as “medium risk” in “an appalling failure” by the Probation Service before his sickening spree. Damien Bendall used a claw hammer to kill his girlfriend Terri Harris, 35, her daughter Lacey Bennett, 11, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, also 11, in September 2021.

Bendall also admitted raping Lacey during the attack at the home he shared with Ms Harris in Killamarsh, Derbyshire.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said a formal review will be held into how Bendall’s was handled by probation officers before he murdered the three children and his pregnant partner.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has asked the Chief Inspector of Probation to investigate Bendall’s court files after the ex-con was sentenced on Wednesday to a whole-life order for the murders.

Bendall, 32, was already in the probation system for arson, robbery, attempted robbery and grievous bodily harm convictions.

He was allowed to return to Ms Harris’s home on condition he wore an electronic tag and regularly met his probation officer, who was a trainee.

During his trial it emerged he had been using drugs and was fuelled by cocaine when he battered to death Terri and the children.

He had been serving a 24-month suspended sentence for arson when he carried out the killings.

The probation officer who assessed his record for his sentencing in the arson case has since been sacked, according to the Daily Telegraph.

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The probation officer was found guilty of gross misconduct after erroneously categorising Bendall as “medium risk” rather than “high risk”, the newspaper reported.

A second probation officer has also separately been found guilty of misconduct for later allocating Bendall’s case to a trainee.

A spokesperson for the MoJ said: “These were appalling crimes and our thoughts remain with the victims’ families.

“The Deputy Prime Minister asked the Chief Inspector of Probation to conduct a review of this case and we will respond further once this is published.”

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Former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland, who left the post just three days before the Killamarsh killings, described the miscategorisation of Bendall as a lower-risk offender as “an appalling failure”.

He said: “I think we have to acknowledge that such an error is just an appalling failure.

“The ministry has to be as open and transparent as possible about why it happened and most importantly to make sure the risk of that happening again is kept to a minimum, if not eliminated.

“Frankly, there should be processes in place that mean various thresholds and tests would be met before that sort of fundamental mistake could be made.”

The Chief Inspector of Probation’s review is likely to be released in the new year.

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the UK criminal justice system for those who commit the most serious crimes.

Bendall joins a string of some of the country’s most dangerous offenders who are expected to die behind bars. These include disgraced police officer Wayne Couzens and necrophiliac David Fuller.

They will never be considered for release unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it.

During sentencing at Derby Crown Court on Wednesday, Mr Justice Sweeney told Bendall: “It is accepted that the seriousness of your offences is so exceptionally high the court must make a whole-life order. I agree.

“As the prosecution have said, you carried out brutal, vicious and cruel attacks on a defenceless woman and three young children.

“You went around the house attacking them: Terri in the main bedroom, John in the bathroom, Connie in another bedroom, and Lacey, hitting them with a claw hammer and with such ferocity, their skulls were literally smashed in.”

He added that after attacking Lacey in the living room, he carried her “unconscious but still alive” to the main bedroom, where Ms Harris lay dead on the floor, before placing the youngster on the bed and positioning a mirror “so you could see all of what you were going to do”.

The judge said: “Then, as her young life was ebbing away, you raped her in the grossest breach of trust.”

He told Bendall he had displayed “controlling” behaviour towards Ms Harris before the attacks and concerned friends described him as a “gangster wannabe” who bragged about spending time in prison.

As the judge told him he would never be free again, some in the public gallery cried “yes”.

Earlier, in a victim impact statement read to court, Ms Harris’s mother Angela Smith – who branded Bendall “evil” – said: “John (Bennett) would tell me when he was younger, he was scared of monsters.

“I would tell him there’s no such thing as monsters. How wrong I was.”

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