'Truly evil' sleepover killer will die behind bars in whole life term

‘Truly evil’ sleepover killer will die behind bars: Boyfriend is given whole life term for murdering his pregnant partner, her son, 13, raping and killing her daughter, 11, and bludgeoning her friend to death after cocaine binge

  • Damien Bendall said he murdered Lacey Bennett, 11, and her brother John, 13
  • He also said he killed his partner, Terri Harris, 35, and friend Connie Gent, 11 
  • Bendall carried out the murders and raped Lacey in the Derby family home 

A boyfriend who murdered his pregnant partner and three young children will die in jail after receiving a rare whole life tariff.

Damien Bendall, 32, raped and killed Lacey Bennett, 11, her brother John Paul Bennett, 13, their mother and his girlfriend Terri Harris, 35, and 11-year-old Connie Gent in Killamarsh, Derbyshire last year.

Justice Nigel Sweeney had no hesitation in handing him the rare punishment, which means he will never be released.

As he was sentenced police released footage of the moment of his arrest, showing him looking utterly casual about the nightmare he had inflicted.

Judge Sweeney showed little belief in Bendall’s pathetic attempt to explain away the killings by claiming he had a brain injury, something his own lawyer said no tests had proved. His drug use was also not accepted as a mitigating factor. 

Damien Bendall has admitted murdering Lacey Bennett, 11, her brother John Paul Bennett, 13, their mother Terri Harris, 35, and 11-year-old Connie Gent in Killamarsh, Derbyshire last year 

Lacey Bennett, left, her mother Terri Harris, centre, and her brother, John Paul, were all killed

The judge told him: ‘You have a significant background of violent offending.

‘In April 2020 you began a relationship with Terri Harris which became abusive and controlling, distancing Terri from her family.

‘On September 18, you carried out a brutal and vicious assault on a defenceless woman and three children. You attacked Lacey downstairs and carried her upstairs where you raped her on the bed where her mother had been killed as her life ebbed away.’

Giving his reaction to the whole-life order handed to Damien Bendall, the deputy chief crown prosecutor for the East Midlands, Andrew Baxter, said: ‘It is hard to put into words the scale of Damien Bendall’s barbaric and horrifying actions.

‘I would also like to thank my dedicated legal team who worked tirelessly on the case to ensure this offender won’t harm anyone else.’

Earlier Lacey and John’s father Jason told of his agony he could never again ‘Kiss them and tell them I love them’.

And their grandmother and Terri’s mother Angela Smith said: ‘I told John and Lacey there were no such thing as monsters. How wrong I was.’

Bendall had previously tried to plead guilty to manslaughter by diminished responsibility, but it was refused by the prosecution.

At Derby Crown Court this morning he finally admitted murder and raping schoolgirl Lacey during the attack on September 18 last year.

A court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Damien Bendall appearing at Derby Crown Court

Prosecutor Louis Mably KC said Bendall – who once boasted about killing a dog with a brick – murdered each victim in a different room in the house with a claw hammer.

He said Lacey was raped as she lay dying, adding: ‘The circumstances are truly hideous. Terri was in the early stages of pregnancy.

‘It appears the defendant went around the house looking for them and attacking them each in turn.

‘These were brutal, vicious and cruel attacks on a defenceless woman and three young children.

‘The defendant attacked them using a claw hammer which he used to hit them over the head and on the upper body. 

Connie Gent, 11, (left) was at a sleepover at the home in Killamarsh when she was murdered with Lacey (right), John and their mother Terri Harris

A poignant picture of Lacey Bennett and Connie Gent emerged, showing them going out of their way to help those less fortunate hours before the murders

‘I can’t kiss them and tell them I love them’: The agony of John and Lacey’s father is told to the court 

Jason Bennett, the father of John and Lacey, gave a powerful victim impact statement to the court.

It read: ‘The murder of my two children has destroyed me and taken my life away.

‘I can’t kiss them and tell them I love them and now I have nothing to fight for.

‘I used to be scared of dying now I’m not scared at all I just want the pain I feel to end.

‘John and Lacey were innocent and I cannot comprehend why someone would take innocent lives.’

‘It was perfectly clear none of the victims stood a chance.’ 

Terri had first moved to Killamarsh in September 2020 and had tried to keep the address secret from Bendall, who she had first met on a dating website in April of that year.

But by August 2021 she told a friend she and the defendant were trying for a baby and at around this time she told her mother she intended to marry him.

On the day of the attacks the children had put up a stall outside the house selling sweets to raise money for Cancer Research.

Telephone evidence, including texts, helped explain the sequence of events and sheds light on the deteriorating relationship between Bendall and Terri.

Mr Mably said: ‘One piece of evidence is a piece dated from September 16, just before the weekend in question, when a neighbour was on the pavement in Chandos Crescent and was just across the road from the house when she saw the defendant leaving the property and shout ‘this is not finished yet.’

‘The witness thought at the time she wouldn’t let someone speak to her in that fashion.’

The court heard Bendall had a meeting that day and it appeared to the practitioner he was not under the influence of drink and drugs and he claimed he was abstaining.

The community was left devastated by the murders and left floral tributes at the Derby scene 

A note on flowers left at the scene today said the four victims’ lives ‘were cut far too short but memories would live on’

‘I told John and Lacey there were no such thing as monsters. How wrong I was’ 

Terri’s mother Angela Smith, also the grandmother of Lacey and John, spoke in a written statement of the impact of their murders.

She said: ‘Some days I question the meaning of my existence. I struggle to try and explain to my elderly parents what happened.

The only living person that can is Bendall. Terri was my only child and I will never have another child or grandchild.

‘No mother should have to go through burying their daughter and grandchildren. How could Bendall use the level of violence he did?

‘Terri was a lovely bubbly person and we had so many more adventures ahead of us.

‘I remember Lacey and John growing up saying to me they were scared of monsters and would tell them there were no such things as monsters. How wrong I was.’ 

By 7:40pm, the defendant was out and phone records ‘make clear he was buying and smoking cannabis.’

Mr Mably said at around 5pm Ms Harris spoke to a friend and said they did not have plans that weekend and she would call as ‘we have some good news for you.’

Mr Mably said : ‘Amongst all this, Terri was caring for her children who were on that day at school. It is clear between messages between Terri and her children they had a close and loving relationship and they had plans that weekend and that included Lacey’s friend Connie staying over for a sleepover.’

The court has heard Connie went over for a sleepover and they all went to bed at 10pm. Mr Mably said Ms Harris ‘called them all and told them to clean their teeth.’

John sent a message to his father that night ‘about a Christmas present John hoped to receive from his father that December. It was a typical conversation.’

The court heard Connie asked her mother if she could stay an extra night at the house in Chandos Crescent, and she agreed.

Mr Mably said: ‘During the day the girls and John spent the afternoon outside the house, selling sweets in order to fundraise for Cancer Research. Happy go lucky.

‘This was in fact recorded in part on the girls’ mobile telephones and other parts of their movements in that afternoon were recorded on local CCTV.’

A clip was played in court, a recording Connie and Lacey made on their phone with a poster they had made for their sweet stall.

The devastated father of two children found dead alongside their best friend and mother at a semi-detached house

Whole life orders: the brutal killers given UK’s rarest sentences 

There are 60 criminals still alive who are serving whole life orders, according to government figures to the end of June. In total, 73 criminals have been sentenced to whole life terms.

Former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was handed one for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard. 

Prisoners serving life sentences will never be considered for release, unless there are exceptional compassionate grounds to warrant it. 

Wayne Couzens was jailed for the rest of his life with no chance of parole

Milly Dowler’s killer Levi Bellfield is thought to be the only criminal in UK legal history to be serving two whole life orders – for her murder, the killings of Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

Other notorious criminals serving whole life orders include Gloucester serial killer Rose West, who is responsible for the deaths of ten women – many of them tortured and murdered with her husband Fred West, now dead, as an accomplice.  

Rose West was later transferred to HMP New Hall in West Yorkshire in 2019, as rumours circulated about ill health and death threats. 

Myra Hindley, who died aged 60 in 2002, was never released from prison despite her long campaign for parole, which was backed by prominent supporters including Francis, Pakenham, Earl of Longford.

Partner in crime, Ian Brady, spent 19 years in mainstream prisons before he was diagnosed as a psychopath in 1985 and moved to the high security Park Lane Hospital, now Ashworth Hospital, in Maghull, Merseyside.

Brady vowed to starve himself in 2012 and unsuccessfully applied to return to prison. He finally died at Ashworth Hospital in 2017 aged 79, after spending 52 years incarcerated.

Michael Adebolajo, one of Fusilier Lee Rigby’s killers, is also serving a life term without parole.

Other notorious lifers are Mark Bridger, 55, who abducted and murdered five-year-old April Jones in Powys, Wales, in 2012; neo-Nazi Thomas Mair who killed MP Jo Cox; Grindr serial killer Stephen Port; and most recently terror attacker Khairi Saadallah – who murdered three men in a park in Reading. 

Levi Bellfield who was found guilty of murdering schoolgirl Milly Dowler in 2003

Before they died, Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and doctor Harold Shipman – thought to be one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers – were also among those serving whole life orders.

In the past, home secretaries could issue whole life tariffs and these are now determined by judges.  

The reforms would also allow judges to hand out the maximum sentence to 18 to 20-year-olds in exceptional cases, such as for acts of terrorism leading to mass loss of life. 

It will also give judges the discretion, in exceptional circumstances, to impose a whole life order on offenders aged 18 or over but under 21.

Mr Mably said: ‘Terri asked them to come home just before 8pm. From about that time, the three children were inside the house.

‘The text messages, as I say, sent between Terri and her children that day showed she was a caring and loving mother who enjoyed a close and loving relationship with them.

‘As they were all together in the house, just after 9pm Connie’s mother sent a WhatsApp message to Connie wishing her ‘goodnight’ and Connie replied immediately saying good night to her mother.’

Mr Mably continued: ‘Connie’s mother recalls that at around 21.30 she overheard a FaceTime conversation between her older daughter Libby and John Bennett. In her recollection, the conversation lasted for approximately 30 minutes. Connie’s mum hear the sound from Chandos Crescent. They were having a last runaround.

‘The last message was sent at 9.42pm, when John indicated to his mother that he would have a shower before going to bed. There then comes a point of trying to pinpoint when the attacks took place. There was no sound emanating that could be heard by a neighbour.

‘What the evidence indicates is that some time after 9.42pm, the attacks began. The facts was the children was going to bed and the defendant was in the house.

‘Telephone evidence shows at 7.50pm he had been in the house trying to make contact with his drug dealer, telephoning the dealer of cocaine and it appears he had cocaine to sell and it appears he was sending messages out to his clients at that time.’

The family’s four bodies were discovered at a house in Killamarsh, in Derbyshire on September 19.

The alarm had been raised after a relative of Bendall had called Dorset Police to say he had sustained a self-inflicted stab wound.

Mr Mably said Bendall called his mother at around 7am and then she called the police to tell them the that her son had suffered a self-inflicted stab wound.

It was then the killer used Connie’s phone to call 999 where he told them that he had killed four people.

Officers met the killer at the door of the house and after talking to him he let them in.

Inside they found the rampage he had gone on and the four bodies in the property.

The court heard attending officer PC Stubbs found John lying dead on the floor of the bathroom. 

He discovered Lacey and Terri’s bodies in the main bedroom and Connie in the second bedroom.

Harrowing audio of him played to the court showed how the veteran officer had said: Oh Jesus, there are at least three casualties, they are gone, they are all gone, Jesus. I don’t know who they are but they are all gone. Massive head injuries.’     

As he was arrested Bendall had whined to officers ‘I’m going back to prison again’ and ‘I’ve murdered four people’.

When police asked him why he mumbled ‘I don’t know. I blanked out, it’s like I was, erm, outside my body but looking in.’  

Bendall was notorious in the area as a local criminal.

Now the pleas have been entered it can be disclosed he had brushes with the law, including arson when he set a BMW worth £1,350 on fire in May 2020. 

He was serving a suspended sentence for this when he carried out the murders. 

At the time of their murders John and Lacey’s father, Jason Bennett, made a heartfelt tribute to his son and daughter.

In statement he said ‘I’ve been left broken. I’m devastated. John and Lacey came into our lives and brought so much love and happiness and were adored by myself and their big sisters, forever loved and remembered.

‘We would also like to thank everyone for their loving support and our thoughts go out to everyone affected by the tragic loss of four precious lives.’

Ms Harris’s parents, Angela Smith and Lawrence Harris, described her as ‘an amazing mum’ who ‘put herself out not just for her family and friends but anyone who needed her help’.

They added: ‘She absolutely loved her work as a care worker and would go above and beyond for the people she cared for.

‘She will be missed more than any words can ever express, not only by her family but by anyone who had the privilege to have been in her life.’

And Connie’s father, Charles Gent said: ‘The pain is indescribable. I wake up every morning hoping this has all been a terrible nightmare, but it’s not. It’s the unbearable reality that my little girl has gone.

‘Connie was an absolute superstar in every way. She had a gift – if someone was down she could instantly make them feel okay.

‘She lit up every room she went in and meant something to everyone she came across, even in hard times. Connie had the ability to keep everyone smiling.

‘Fly safe my angel. They came for you and left me behind. I could never say goodbye, so I’ll see you soon. I love you more than you can possibly imagine forever and always.’

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