A one-time cage fighter who carried out the “brutal, vicious and cruel” murders of his pregnant partner and three young children – raping one of them – has been been told he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Damien Bendall, 32, who had previously admitted manslaughter, pleaded guilty to murdering 35-year-old Terri Harris, her 11-year-old daughter Lacey Bennett, her son John Paul Bennett, 13, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, 11, with a claw hammer at the home he shared with Ms Harris.
The ex-con also admitted raping Lacey at the house in Killamarsh, near Sheffield, in 2021, during what prosecutor Louis Mably KC told the court were “truly hideous and dreadful” attacks on a defenceless woman and young children.
During sentencing at Derby Crown Court on Wednesday, Mr Justice Sweeney told him: “On your behalf, Bendall, it is accepted that the seriousness of your offences is so exceptionally high the court must make a whole-life order. I agree.
“As the prosecution have said, you carried out brutal, vicious and cruel attacks on a defenceless woman and three young children.
“You went around the house attacking them: Terri in the main bedroom, John in the bathroom, Connie in another bedroom, and Lacey, hitting them with a claw hammer and with such ferocity, their skulls were literally smashed in.”
He added that after attacking Lacey in the living room, he carried her “unconscious but still alive” to the main bedroom, where Ms Harris lay dead on the floor, before placing the youngster on the bed and positioning a mirror “so you could see all of what you were going to do”.
“Then, as her young life was ebbing away, you raped her in the grossest breach of trust,” said the judge.
Having already imposed whole-life sentences for each of the murders, Mr Justice Sweeney said the “horrendous circumstances” of the rape justified the same sentence.
“I have no doubt you are a dangerous offender,” he told Bendall who sat looking at the floor while the victims’ families stared at him.
The judge told Bendall he had displayed “controlling” behaviour towards Ms Harris before the attacks, and concerned friends described him as a “gangster wannabe” who bragged about spending time in prison.
As the judge told him he would never be free again, some in the public gallery cried “yes”.
Earlier, in a victim impact statement read to court, Ms Harris’s mother Angela Smith – who branded Bendall “evil” – said: “John (Bennett) would tell me when he was younger, he was scared of monsters.
“I would tell him there’s no such thing as monsters. How wrong I was.”
Mr Mably, opening the case earlier, said Lacey was likely to have been raped at least twice by Bendall.
Earlier that day, “happy-go-lucky” Lacey, Connie and John had filmed themselves selling sweets to passers-by at a cancer charity stall they had set up, the court heard.
Connie had only been due to stay over for one night, but got permission from her mother, fatefully extending her stay by another night – coinciding with Bendall’s attacks, the court heard.
After the killings, Bendall “took John’s Xbox, ordered a taxi, went to Sheffield” and exchanged the games console for drugs, Mr Mably said.
He told the cab driver he had been “just chilling with the family”.
“This gives an indication of the sheer callous depravity of the defendant’s conduct that night,” said Mr Mably.
Bendall, who had a cannabis habit, later told police he had consumed “three to four bags of cocaine and then blacked out”.
Ms Harris and the children were found dead at her home in Chandos Crescent in the north-east Derbyshire town on September 19 last year.
Most had defensive injuries, indicating they had tried to fight off Bendall after he launched his attack some time after 9.42pm the previous evening.
Mr Mably told the court: “The circumstances of these offences are truly hideous and dreadful.
“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.
“It was perfectly clear none of the victims stood a chance.
“It does appear each (victim) was attacked in a different room, (and) appears he went around the house looking for them, attacking them each in turn, in order to kill them.
“One of the dreadful facts about this case is that during the attacks, the defendant raped Lacey, and this included raping her as she lay dying from the head wounds he had inflicted with the hammer.”
Bendall was arrested outside the house shortly after 7.39am on September 19, after his mother had rung 999 telling operators he had reported stabbing himself.
Body-worn video showed Bendall, who had two superficial knife wounds, calmly telling police: “I’ve murdered four people.”
Audio of the police search of the house was played in court, with a male officer’s voice catching with emotion as he said: “They’re gone, they’re gone. They’re all gone.”
After his arrest, Bendall told officers at Ripley police station: “The whole house is covered in claret.
“I used the hammer. I didn’t realise what I did until I walked into my room and saw my missus and my daughter.
“Bet you don’t usually get four murders in Killamarsh do you? Well, five (murders), because my missus was having a baby.”
Vanessa Marshall KC, for Bendall – who has maintained he has no memory of the event – said her client agreed he should be handed a whole-life order.
She said: “His actions that night remain largely inexplicable and motiveless.”
Bendall, who had previous convictions for robbery, attempted robbery and grievous bodily harm, carried out the rape and murders while on a 24-month suspended sentence handed down at Swindon Crown Court in June 2021 for arson of a car he had tried to steal.
Welcoming the sentence, Derbyshire Police called Bendall a “monster”, while the Crown Prosecution Service labelled his actions as “barbaric”.