Failings that led Aryan Brotherhood member with Nazi tats to become child killer

A watchdog has outlined the measures probation officers could have taken to prevent a "psychopathic" man from killing four people.

Damien Bendall, 33, will spend the rest of his life behind bars after he murdered Terri Harris, 35, her 11-year-old daughter Lacey Bennett, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11, with a claw hammer.

Bendall, who has an extensive criminal record, also admitted raping Lacey.

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Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said the Probation Service’s handling of Bendall was "unacceptable" and made 17 recommendations for improvement.

The dangerous criminal was permitted to move into the home where the killings took place in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, with his future victims shortly after he was convicted of arson and handed a 24-month suspended sentence.

An ex-partner of Bendall's also accused the killer of domestic abuse and made two requests for him not to contact her – one to HMP Exeter in May 2016 and a second two months later to Bendall’s previous probation practitioner.

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Her new partner made the same request a week later, but it was unclear whether the incident was escalated or if further questions were asked about the woman.

Bendall told probation officers he was a high-ranking member of a white supremacist group called the Aryan Brotherhood and that he had been involved in gang violence as a teen but never convicted.

He also boasted of having two Nazi-inspired tattoos, but inspectors found "no evidence" probation officers had checked any of these claims.

Wiltshire Police had, however, contacted probation workers to confirm Bendall’s last known address when they said they had evidence of a "sexual risk of harm to girls".

This claim was "not explored or recorded sufficiently to inform the risk of serious harm assessment and plans to keep children safe".

Probation officers also learned from the killer that he took drugs and drank alcohol.

Following an attempted robbery conviction in August 2015, Bendall admitted he "frequently" took money from his family and ex-partner to fund his drug habit.

Meanwhile, one probation officer, who was involved with Bendall’s case in 2016, described him as "cold and calculated and quite psychopathic".

In spite of the warning signs, a member of what was then the National Probation Service’s court team assessed that Bendall posed a medium risk of serious harm to the public and a low risk of serious harm to partners and children after domestic abuse claims.

Mr Russell said officers "came to this wholly inappropriate conclusion without speaking to Ms Harris, visiting the property, conducting domestic abuse inquiries, or taking into account past domestic abuse claims”.

He added the assessment "underestimated the risks" posed and said that "this had serious consequences".

The staff placed in charge of Bendall's supervision between June and September 2021 were described as having "insufficient support to understand and recognise the risks and needs in the case" and "should not have been exposed to cases such as [Bendall’s] at this stage in their careers".

"This was a deeply concerning case," Mr Russell said.

"The Probation Service’s assessment and management of Bendall at every stage, from initial court report to his supervision in the community, was of an unacceptable standard and fell far below what was required.

“Probation managers and practitioners took the risk assessment from the court report as a given, and missed several opportunities to scrutinise and change it.

“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.”

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