Following the murder of three children and his pregnant partner, a report made by the chief inspector of probation, Justin Russell, exposes failures to correctly assess the serious risk Damien Bendall posed to the public. Russell attributes the unacceptable standard of supervision and assessment of Bendall to major staff shortages following Covid-19, and under-trained probation officers and managers with workloads too unmanageable to supervise less-experienced staff.
Bendall was mistakenly categorised as a low-risk offender when he was in fact at a high risk of causing serious harm. Bendall was permitted to live under curfew with his pregnant partner and her two children in Killamarsh, Sheffield, before killing them and another child despite a long history of violence and crime. His criminal past included allegations of domestic abuse, convictions for robbery and grievous bodily harm, a 24-month suspended sentence for arson, and a sexual risk of harming girls. The risk of harm Bendall posed to girls was “not explored or recorded sufficiently”. The report also noted that Bendall was a cage fighter, a member of a white supremacist group, and had two Nazi-inspired tattoos, all of which were disregarded by probation officers because he tended to tell “grandiose stories”.
In two-thirds of the 850 cases Russell inspected, the risk criminals posed to the public was not sufficiently assessed. It is suggested that malpractice among probation officers was not unique to Bendall and permeates the probation system.
An additional yearly £155m to the probation service budget is meant to rectify staffing shortages and ensure sufficient checks are made before any offender is given a curfew, said the prisons and probation minister, Damian Hinds.
According to the report, “Had DB’s [Damien Bendall’s] risk of serious harm to the public and children been correctly assessed as high and had his risk of serious harm to partners been correctly assessed as medium, the court may not have curfewed him to an address with Ms Harris and her children.”
Bendall is now serving a lifetime prison sentence.