The revelations raise fresh questions about the adequacy of Britain’s Probation Service after a report in September found that around 500 serious offences a year were being committed by offenders under supervision.
The agency has also been beset by high-profile scandals including that of Joseph McCann, who went on a rampage of sexual violence across the country while under supervision, and Usman Khan, a terrorist who murdered two people in Fishmongers’ Hall, London, while being monitored.
Sir Robert Buckland, who served as justice secretary until three days before the Killamarsh killings, told The Telegraph on Thursday night: “I think we have to acknowledge that such an error is just an appalling failure.
“The ministry has to be as open and transparent as possible about why it happened, and most importantly to make sure the risk of that happening again is kept to a minimum, if not eliminated.
“Frankly, there should be processes in place that means various thresholds and tests would be met before that sort of fundamental mistake could be made.”
Sir Mike Penning, another former justice secretary, said: “People’s lives have been lost because the system has failed them. The probation officer’s pre-sentencing report has failed them, the system has failed them.”
Some staff ‘looked for shortcuts’
Sources told The Telegraph that probation officers are required to spend eight or nine hours entering details into the convoluted Offender Assessment System (Oasys) to calculate an offender’s risk, leading some staff to “look for shortcuts”.
The officer who prepared the pre-sentence report in Swindon failed to access all the background information about Bendall and consequently did not enter crucial details into the Oasys system, it is understood.
A probation source said: “The risk assessment came out lower than it should have been. He should have been flagged as ‘high risk of harm’ but he was graded ‘medium risk’ instead. As a result, he was allocated to a trainee – it wouldn’t have happened if he’d been ‘high risk’.”
To make matters worse, the source added that probation officers in the Swindon region at the time were not allowed to recommend custody in their pre-sentence reports.
A probation inspection of the region in July last year found that “well over half of the reports we inspected did not draw on all available sources of information”.
Bendall was allowed to return to the home of his partner, Terri Harris, in Killamarsh on the condition that he wore an electronic tag and regularly met the trainee probation officer.
His trial heard, however, that he had been using drugs heavily and was fuelled by cocaine when he bludgeoned to death Ms Harris, her children John Bennett, 13, Lacey Bennett, 11, and Lacey’s friend Connie Gent, also 11, who was sleeping over.
Bendall raped Lacey as she lay dying before taking a taxi to Sheffield to exchange John’s Xbox for more drugs.