A coroner still believes there is a risk to women and children due to the Probation Service’s “insufficient” management of dangerous offenders following the inquests for the victims of Damien Bendall.

Bendall was given a whole life order last December for murdering his partner, Terri Harris, her children, John Paul and Lacey Bennett, and Lacey’s friend, Connie Gent, in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, on September 19 2021.

The inquests into their deaths in October heard that a total of 57 “very stark acts or omissions” by the Probation Service and Capita PLC in their management of Bendall “accumulatively” contributed to the killings, including him being graded as posing a low risk to partners and children.

In a Prevention Of Future Death report published on Wednesday, senior coroner Peter Nieto said he remained unsure that the Probation Service could clearly record information about dangerous offenders and that staff were adequately trained to deal with them.

The Probation Service said that it had taken action to address the “unacceptable failings” in the case.

In his report, Mr Nieto said: “Very concerning information regarding Damien Bendall was made known to the Probation Service (including violent assault and injury of a partner, and an incident of possible child sexual abuse).

“But [this] was not recorded clearly or prominently for subsequent Probation Service practitioners to read and evaluate in risk assessment and decision-making, and indeed was not read at key and critical points.

“The inquests identified that domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks were either insufficient or wholly lacking at various stages of Damien Bendall’s offender management.

“The current evidence is that domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks remain generally insufficient or are not being done with consequent ongoing risks to children and women.

“Insufficient or absent Probation Service domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks has been a theme of HM Inspectorate of Probation reports and reviews for at least the last five years.”

Terri Harris (centre), 35, John-Paul, 13, and Lacey, 11, were murdered by Bendall (Derbyshire Constabulary/PA)
Terri Harris (centre), 35, John Paul, 13, and Lacey, 11, were murdered by Bendall (Derbyshire Constabulary/PA)

The inquests at Chesterfield Coroner’s Court heard that Bendall was managed by overworked and “very inexperienced” probation staff despite having a history of serious and violent offending dating back to 2004.

At the time of the murders, he was serving a suspended sentence for arson with a curfew requirement at Ms Harris’s home in Chandos Crescent, Killamarsh.

But the probation officer who recommended the curfew in a pre-sentence report told the inquests she did not recall seeing previous assessments of his high risk, allegations of domestic abuse made by a former partner or concerns over his contact with a teenage girl.

As well as individual errors, Mr Nieto said staff used “confusing” systems and that it remained unclear how to easily record information about offenders.

He claimed safeguarding systems were “severely strained” and questioned whether the Probation Service “is failing to grasp” the importance of accurately completing safeguarding checks.

He said: “Evidence from senior Probation Service staff was to the effect that failing to undertake the checks and failure to make this explicitly clear in a pre-sentence report might be dealt with by management feedback to the Probation Service practitioner but is unlikely to be a disciplinary matter.

“This leads me to question whether, given the potentially very disastrous outcomes in terms of public protection, the Probation Service is failing to grasp the seriousness of the issue, to make this explicit to Probation Service practitioners, and to ensure that there are commensurate penalties for staff where these professional duties have been breached.”

The report has been sent to Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, and the Chief Probation Officer, who have 56 days to respond outlining what action has been or will be taken to resolve the issues or explain why action will not be taken.

A Probation Service spokesman said: “These were unthinkable crimes and our thoughts remain with the families of Terri Harris, John Paul and Lacey Bennett and Connie Gent.

“We have taken action to address the unacceptable failings in this case, including mandating domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks, recruiting thousands more probation officers, and improving information-sharing.

“We are also reviewing our next steps in light of the coroner’s findings to ensure we are taking every action to keep the public safe.”

The report has also been addressed to Capita PLC after a staff member failed to report a comment made by Bendall as they were fitting his electronic curfew tag that he would murder his partner and the children if the relationship “goes bad”.

It has also been sent to the Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust after no record was made of Bendall missing at least four alcohol and drug misuse appointments prior to the murders, despite them being a condition of his suspended sentence.