Mother wanted to use Clare's Law to expose Damien Bendall's past11/03/2023
Mother wanted to use Clare’s Law to expose ‘master manipulator’ Damien Bendall’s violent past before he murdered her pregnant daughter and grandchildren – but was terrified it would endanger them
- Angie Smith feared using the law would put her daughter in further danger
- Damien Bendall killed Terri Harris and children John and Lacey Bennett in 2021
A grieving mother wanted to use Clare’s Law to expose the violent past of man who murdered her pregnant daughter and grandchildren, but was terrified it would put them in danger.
Terri Harris, 35, and her children John Bennett, 13, and Lacey Bennett, 11, were killed by ‘master manipulator’ Damien Bendall with a claw hammer in their Derbyshire home in 2021. Lacey’s friend, 11-year-old Connie Gent, was also murdered.
Bendall, from Swindon, had a history of serious and violent offences dating back to 2004.
He was convicted of the four murders and the rape of Lacey in December last year and handed down a whole-life order.
Just weeks before the murders, he was given a suspended sentence for arson, which included a curfew requirement at Ms Harris’ home. He had been incorrectly categorised by a probation officer as medium risk.
An inquest held last month heard that Bendall said he would kill Ms Harris and her children if their relationship ‘went bad’.
Damian Bendall, from Swindon, had a history of serious and violent offences dating back to 2004
Terri Harris, 35, (pictured) and her children were killed by ‘master manipulator’ Damien Bendall with a claw hammer in their Derbyshire home in 2021
Lacey Bennett, 11, was killed and raped by Bendall
John Bennett was killed by Bendall, just aged 13
Lacey’s friend, 11-year-old Connie Gent (pictured) was also murdered
Ms Harris’ mother, Angie Smith, told the BBC she had had suspicions about Bendall, which prompted her to consider using Clare’s Law, a scheme set up to let people find out from police if their partner had a history of domestic violence.
What is Clare’s Law?
Clare’s Law was created in 2014 following a campaign by Michael Brown, whose daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend.
Clare Wood, 36, was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend George Appleton at her home in Salford, Greater Manchester, in February 2009.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, was designed to provide people with information that may protect them from a potentially abusive situation.
The scheme allows the police to disclose information about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is named after Clare Wood, who was killed by her ex-partner in 2009.
But, Ms Smith said she was worried that police would send a response to her request directly to her daughter, which she feared would put her in danger if Bendall found out.
‘I realised the information would probably go to my daughter and he’s there all the time,’ Ms Smith told the BBC.
‘I thought ‘I can’t do that’. Would I put her in more danger? Would I put the kids in more danger? So I didn’t do it.’
She is now trying to amend Clare’s Law so that police can send a response to a close relative, and make the application forms simpler and easier to find online.
She has had meetings with ministers and Home Office officials but claims they were told ‘Clare’s Law does work’.
‘The Home Office said the form was going to change and it would be consistent to all police forces’, she said. ‘But that is still not happening.
‘Clare’s Law does work to a certain part but it’s not fit for purpose and there is still work to be done.’
During the inquest, the probation service accepted 51 failings, and accepted they had missed opportunities and not sufficiently scrutinised Bendall’s supervision.
In a scathing indictment of the state of the service, Peter Nieto, the senior coroner for Derby and Derbyshire said the victims had been failed by overworked, stressed and inexperienced probation officers.
He said missed opportunities, errors of judgment and a ‘lack of professional curiosity’ by staff and managers meant Bendall was free to commit murder.
He identified four ‘stark omissions’ including a failure to record serious domestic violence by a former partner and a failure to record and and properly assess Bendall’s risk to children after police received a report he had been found in the bed of a girl in care.
John Paul, 13, and Lacey, 11, pictured with their father Jason Bennett
Chandos Crescent in Killamarsh, Derbyshire, where the bodies of John Paul Bennett, 13, Lacey Bennett, 11, their mother Terri Harris, 35, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11, were discovered
Lacey Bennett with her brother John Paul Bennett and their mother Terri Harris
Connie Gent, 11, was at a sleepover at the home in Killamarsh, near Sheffield, when she was murdered
The coroner also singled out a pre sentence report prepared by trainee probation officer after he was convicted of arson just months before the killing.
It said he was suitable to receive a curfew to live at Ms Harris’ house.
The coroner said the report was ‘inadequate and misleading’ and incorrectly suggested checks had been carried out which hadn’t.
As a result, he was sentenced to an ‘entirely inappropriate curfew condition to reside with Ms Harris and her children’.
The coroner also criticised an Electronic Monitoring System officer – employed by Capita – who failed to report comments he made when she was fitting his tag.
The inquest also heard a substance misuse worker didn’t breath-test Bendall before the killings, because no one told her he had admitted to smoking cannabis again. T he inquest was told he missed at least five earlier appointments to address his drug and alcohol use.
‘We know he was a psychopath. We know he was a master manipulator,’ Ms Smith said.
‘He was always with her. It was just constant. She started to change the way she dressed. She was quieter. It was as if he was parading her round.
‘Terri was just an amazing human. Everything about her was just for her children. She did everything for her kids’.
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