Independent serious further offence review of Damien Bendall


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.

Bendall was on probation when he committed these offences. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice the Rt Hon Dominic Raab asked HM Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell to conduct an independent review into this case. This review was completed in January 2022 and can now be published following the completion of the criminal proceedings.


HM Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell has made this statement:

“This was a deeply concerning case. 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.

“Bendall had previously committed violent offences. His records show a former partner had made allegations of domestic abuse against him and a police child sexual exploitation unit had made enquiries about him with the Probation Service. Probation practitioners should take account of this sort of intelligence when assessing potential risks of serious harm. But this does not appear to have happened in this case.

“Bendall committed arson in May 2020. A member of the probation service’s court team interviewed him in June 2021 in order to prepare a report with sentencing options for the judge. The report author noted Bendall was suitable for a curfew requirement at the home of Terri Harris. They came to this wholly inappropriate conclusion without speaking to Ms Harris, visiting the property, conducting domestic abuse enquiries, or taking into account past domestic abuse claims.

“The court report author assessed Bendall as posing a medium risk of serious harm to the public and posing a low risk of serious harm to partners and children. We do not agree with this risk assessment; they under-estimated the risks Bendall posed and this had serious consequences.

“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.

“Instead, Bendall’s case was transferred to the East Midlands in the summer of 2021, and he was supervised by insufficiently qualified and experienced probation practitioners. The safety of Ms Harris and her children was not given due consideration. This was especially troubling as Bendall had started drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis again, which is likely to have increased the risk of serious harm.

“Probation services must strike the right balance between protecting the public and supporting individuals to move towards crime-free lives. Sadly, in this case, the balance was out of kilter.

“In January 2022, we published a separate thematic report on electronically monitored curfews which questioned why domestic abuse and child safeguarding enquiries are not mandatory before court ordered curfews. The Bendall case demonstrates clearly why these checks are so important.

“This review also highlights common issues that we have found in previous and recent inspections of probation services: the lack of qualified probation officers and managers with too many responsibilities to provide effective oversight for less experienced staff.

“The Probation Service must tackle these workforce issues. Probation practitioners must have the right knowledge, skills and experience to manage their assigned cases – and appropriate support and oversight from managers.

“We want to see probation practitioners and managers scrutinising case files and past criminal behaviour properly and developing a deeper understanding of the people they manage. We did not see enough ‘professional curiosity’ in this case – Bendall’s words and assertions were often taken at face value. Probation practitioners should be interrogating and verifying claims to build up a complete picture of the individual.

“As a result of this review, I made 17 recommendations for improvement to the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. They have accepted all these recommendations and responded with an action plan for implementing them. While this is welcome, over the past year in our local and national probation inspections we have continued to raise deep concerns about the quality of probation practice we find more generally in relation to the assessment and management of risk of harm. This is a subject I have raised repeated concerns about since becoming Chief Inspector. It is vital that this time lessons are learnt from this awful case.


Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at 00.01 17 January 2023.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. The Inspectorate does not typically conduct reviews when people on probation commit serious further offences. Very occasionally – as in this case – the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice makes a direct request for an independent review. The Inspectorate retains control over the terms of reference, methodology and contents of these reviews.
  4. Prior to 26 June 2021, probation services in England and Wales were delivered by the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies. On 26 June 2021, all probation services were unified into a single Probation Service. We have used the term “probation services” to talk about all of the services that were involved in managing Bendall. We have used the term “the Probation Service” (with capital P and S) to refer to the organisation that is now responsible for managing all people on probation in England and Wales.
  5. In January 2021, the Inspectorate published a thematic report on the Probation Service’s use of electronic monitoring. One of the recommendations is: “mandate the requirement to make domestic abuse and safeguarding checks before recommending a sentence or release on electronically monitored curfew”.

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