Serious Further Offence Review
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation yesterday (17 January 2023) published its independent serious further offence review into the four murders committed by Damien Bendall when he was being supervised by the probation service.
Damien Bendall murdered Terri Harris (aged 35), John Paul Bennett (aged 13), Lacey Bennett (aged 11) and Connie Gent (aged 11). He also raped Lacey. These crimes took place in September 2021 in Killamarsh, Derbyshire. He pleaded guilty in December 2022 and was later sentenced to a whole-life prison term. These shocking crimes have devastated families, friends, and the local community in Killamarsh, Derbyshire and beyond. The publication of the inspectorate’s report had to be delayed until the court case was completed.
Findings from the review
The inspectorate’s report is damning to say the least:
“The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Mr Bendall at each stage of the process from initial court report to his supervision in the community were of an unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required.”
Serious mistakes were made at every point in the process.
Firstly, vital information about the serious risks posed by Mr Bendall to those he lived with, and the public, was not included in the Probation Service’s report and recommendations to the judge when he was sentenced for an arson offence in June 2021. The probation practitioner who prepared the court report following Mr Bendall’s arson conviction took his account and version of events in relation to his offending and circumstances at face value. This included Mr Bendall’s assertion that he played an important part in taking care of Lacey and John Paul Bennett, two of the children he later murdered. Mr Bendall’s claims were not checked with the children’s mother. As a result, he was sentenced to an entirely inappropriate curfew condition to reside with Ms Harris and her children. A proper review of official information would have found a history of domestic abuse and information that the police child sexual exploitation team believed Mr Bendall was considered to be a risk of sexual harm to girls. The court report author did not read the relevant information and therefore wrongly concluded that Mr Bendall posed a medium risk of serious harm to the public, and a low risk of harm to partners and to children.
This initial mistake resulted in the supervision of Mr Bendall being allocated to a probation service officer rather than a probation officer who would have been appropriately experienced and trained and better able to manage him at the higher risk of serious harm level his past history certainly warranted. This decision would also have resulted in Mr Bendall being required to attend face-to-face on a weekly basis which would have provided a much better opportunity for the probation service to realise the true level of risk that Mr Bendall presented and the possibility for these terrible murders to have been prevented.
Several opportunities to correct these mistakes and amend his risk of harm classification and reallocate Mr Bendall’s supervision to an appropriate practitioner were missed in the period from June to September 2021. Probation staff essentially accepted that the risk assessment undertaken for the fast delivery court report was correct and did not investigate further.
Inspectors found successive probation practitioners missed opportunities to ensure vital information known about Damien Bendall was included in assessments and plans to manage and address the risk of serious harm he posed to both women and children. Practitioners did not carry out safeguarding enquiries when he was sentenced for his most recent offence of arson.
When Mr Bendall’s case was transferred from Wiltshire to the East Midlands, he was again supervised by insufficiently qualified and experienced probation practitioners. The safety of Ms Harris and her children was not given due consideration.
The review highlights the serious under-staffing of the probation service (both front-line staff and their line managers) as one of the key reasons for the service failing to supervise Mr Bendall with the required level of professionalism. It goes on to make 17 key recommendations including the including of a specific section in the core probation assessment tool (OASys) dedicated to assessing and planning for the safety of children, and ensuring that the nature of contact and impact the person on probation has in the life of the child have been considered on both current and future children in the person’s life.