Inquest will investigate how ‘cold and calculated’ sleepover killer Damien Bendall who murdered his girlfriend and three children was classed as posing a ‘low risk of serious harm’ by probation services
- Damien Bendall was jailed for life in December 2022 for the four brutal killings
- Read more: Chilling moment ‘truly evil’ boyfriend is arrested after murders
An inquest will investigate how a boyfriend who murdered his partner and three children was deemed to pose a low risk of serious harm by probation services.
Damien Bendall, 32, who was previously called ‘cold and calculated and quite psychopathic’ by a probation officer, raped and killed 11-year-old Lacey Bennett at their home in Killamarsh, Derbyshire in September 2021.
Bendall then went on to murder Lacey’s brother, John Paul Bennett, 13, his partner and the children’s mother Terri Harris, 35, and Lacey’s friend, Connie Gent, who had been at the house for a sleepover.
The killer, who used a claw hammer to murder his victims at their home in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, had a history of serious of violent and serious offences dating back to 2004.
Despite this, he was classed as posing a low risk of serious harm to partners and children.
Damien Bendall, 32, (pictured) who was previously called ‘cold and calculated and quite psychopathic’ by a probation officer, killed his partner and three children
Lacey Bennett (left) her mother Terri Harris (centre) and her brother, John Paul, (right) were all killed
Connie Gent, 11, was at a sleepover at the home in Killamarsh, near Sheffield, when she was murdered
A review of how the Probation Service handled Bendall prior to the murders, ordered by the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, found that his supervision was of an ‘unacceptable standard’ at every stage and ‘critical opportunities’ to correct errors were missed.
After murdering all four of them, the monster took John’s X-box and called a taxi to take him to Sheffield to exchange it for drugs.
When the cab driver asked how his night had been, Bendall told him he had ‘just been chilling with the family really’, while his four victims lay dead in the house.
During the court case, where he was jailed for life, police released footage of the moment of his arrest, which showed him look unconcerned about the nightmare he had created.
The footage showed him saying ‘I’m going back to prison again’ and ‘I’ve murdered four people’.
Upon his sentencing in December, Judge Sweeney dismissed Bendall’s pathetic attempt to claim the killings had been caused by a brain injury – something his own lawyer said he had no tests to prove.
The judge told Bendall at the time: ‘You have a significant background of violent offending.
‘In April 2020 you began a relationship with Terri Harris which became abusive and controlling, distancing Terri from her family.
‘On September 18, you carried out a brutal and vicious assault on a defenceless woman and three children.
An inquest will investigate how Bendall, who murdered his partner and three children, was deemed to pose a low risk of serious harm by probation services (sketch from September 2021)
Ms Harris, was in the early stages of pregnancy when she was killed by Bendall
Today, at a pre-inquest review hearing into the deaths of Ms Harris, Lacey (pictured), John Paul and Connie at Chesterfield Coroners Court, Peter Nieto, area coroner for Derby and Derbyshire, said that four separate inquests would be held at the same time into the deaths
‘You attacked Lacey downstairs and carried her upstairs where you raped her on the bed where her mother had been killed as her life ebbed away.’
Today, at a pre-inquest review hearing into the deaths of Ms Harris, Lacey, John Paul and Connie at Chesterfield Coroners Court, Peter Nieto, area coroner for Derby and Derbyshire, said that four separate inquests would be held at the same time into the deaths.
He said: ‘There has been an Inspectorate of Probation report produced in January and that report obviously raises a number of issues in relation to the assessment and management of the defendant, and whether different management might have made a difference, which from our point of view may mean that there was a prospect that the deaths could have been avoided.
‘The inquests are going to require particular scrutiny of the ways that Damien Bendall was managed and assessed.
‘We need to understand who was involved and how any contribution from any agency involved contributed to the deaths.’
Bendall, who was expecting a child with Ms Harris when he committed the murders, was given four whole life tariffs for the killings, and another for raping Lacey, in December last year.
In January, Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said that a catalogue of errors and missed opportunities in Bendall’s supervision saw him categorised as posing a low risk of causing serious harm to partners and children, and a medium risk to the public, and being supervised by inexperienced staff and ‘heavily overloaded’ line managers.
John Paul and Lacey with their father Jason Bennett
An family handout photo of Connie Gent who was killed by Bendall while at a sleepover
Flowers laid in tribute to the four killed outside the home in Chandos Crescent, Killmarsh, near Sheffield
That was despite Bendall being given a suspended sentence for arson just weeks before the murders, domestic abuse allegations being made by a previous partner and concerns being raised over his contact with a 16-year-old girl in foster care.
After the arson, probation staff decided he was suitable to be put under curfew at home with Ms Harris – an assessment the watchdog concluded was ‘dangerous and entirely inappropriate’.
No attempt was made to speak to Ms Harris or visit the property and there is no evidence that ‘essential’ domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks were carried out by the probation officers making this decision, Mr Russell said, as he agreed no mandatory requirement to do so was ‘extraordinary’.
At the hearing on Tuesday, Mr Nieto said that the inquests should not be a ‘re-run’ of the Inspectorate’s ‘very helpful’ report, and would also consider whether changes had already been made by the Probation Service and agencies involved in Bendall’s supervision.
David Sandiford, representing the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service, said that the organisations ‘continue to express their deepest sympathy’ to the families of the victims and added that all 17 recommendations made in the Inspectorate’s report had all been ‘accepted and reviewed’.
Relatives of the victims were present at the hearing, as well as representatives of Derbyshire Constabulary, the Ministry of Justice, Derbyshire County Council and Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Angie Smith, the mother of Ms Harris, has launched a campaign, named Terri’s Fight, calling for relatives to be able to more easily access information on partners they are concerned about.
Mr Nieto said another pre-inquest review would be held in June or July.
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