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The Maids Moreton murder

St Mary's Church
Image: St Mary's Church in Stowe where Peter Farquhar worshipped and preached | Public Domain

Peter Farquhar was described by those he taught as a powerful personality. He had taught English for 34 years at Manchester Grammar School and Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. Peter was born in Edinburgh and attended Latymer Upper School in London and then Churchill College, Cambridge. For many of his students, he stoked their love of literature and poetry and was said to be able to spot pupils’ potential and encourage them to fulfil their dreams.

Following his retirement from Stowe School, he became a guest lecturer at the Independent University of Buckingham where he was remembered as a ‘charming, erudite and deeply thoughtful man'. He also embarked on a writing career, publishing various novels through Amazon.

One of his students was TV journalist, Michael Crick, who recalled: ‘He was one of the most extraordinary teachers of my life and many former pupils of Stowe and Manchester Grammar School would agree. He was a very inspirational teacher to whom I owe a lot. He was somewhat of a father figure to many of us. He kept in touch with successive generations of pupils and guided them through their early careers. He was a deeply committed Christian.’

For many of his students, he became a father-like figure, and long after their graduation, remained in contact and even developed life-long friendships. That’s why, when 69-year-old Peter was found dead at his home in leafy Maids Moreton in Buckinghamshire, on 26th October 2015, his former students were thrust into a deep period of mourning. His death was ruled a tragic accident – alcohol poisoning. One neighbour recalled: ‘He was normally very fit and very well - never ill. Suddenly he started to go downhill and was feeling ill.’

In the summer of 2017, Peter’s cause of death was brought into question when 83-year-old Ann Moore-Martin, another retired teacher who lived just three doors away from Peter, died suddenly after a short illness. During interviews with Peter’s relatives, they expressed concern about his financial affairs. Police began working on the theory that both Peter and Ann may have been poisoned and they had a prime suspect in mind: 27-year-old Benjamin Field.

Field was a former English literature and journalism student who had been romantically linked to Peter and living with him at his home in Maids Moreton. The two men had a formal ceremony, which they referred to as a betrothal ceremony. In a diary, Peter referred to the day as ‘one of the happiest moments of my life’. Field was a deputy church warden at Stowe Parish Church, where Peter was an active member of the congregation. Betty Cooke, a neighbour of Peter and Field said: ‘Peter was the nicest man you could meet. A real gentleman. He took a man in as a lodger and I didn't see much of Peter after that.’

Early the next year, Field was arrested on suspicion of the two murders as well as fraud, theft and burglary. He had become close friends with Peter while studying at the Independent University of Buckingham.

While looking into the two suspicious deaths, police learned that Field persuaded Peter to publish a handwritten manuscript he had created two decades prior. He had also set up a company called Farquhar Studies and was the director of the business. Peter had even dedicated his third novel to Field, writing that his encouragement had been ‘invaluable’. Raising even more suspicions, in the lead up to Peter’s death, Field had been working on a documentary film about his life which was given the working title: The Moral of the Story: The Literature of Peter Farquhar.

Police began working on the theory that Field had poisoned both Peter and Ann in order to get his hands on their substantial estates. In November, Field was charged with the murder of Peter and plotting to kill Anne. Field’s brother, 23-year-old Tom, was also charged with one count of fraud by false representation.

The following year, Field admitted to conning Peter and Ann into believing that he was in a ‘genuine and caring relationship’ with them for purposes of fraud. He admitted that he needed money for a new car and claimed his brother was suffering from a kidney ailment that was so severe he needed a dialysis machine. He pleaded guilty to fraud and burglary but denied all other charges.

In April 2019, Field went on trial for the murder of Peter and conspiracy to murder Ann. Prosecutor Oliver Saxby stated: ‘The motive was financial gain - laced, as far as Benjamin Field is concerned, with a profound fascination in controlling and manipulating and humiliating and killing. The means were intricate - you will hear evidence of "exit strategies", as he called them, involving drugging, and alcohol poisoning, and suffocation whilst asleep or sedated; and falls at home; and attempts to cause heart failure; car crashes, even; and unwitting overdoses.’

It was revealed during trial that Peter had most likely been suffocated. After his murder, Field set his sights on Ann, but his ‘exit strategy’ was cut short when Ann’s niece became involved. Ann was to die a short time later from natural causes. Before Ann’s death, Field had deceived her into giving him £27,000 to buy a kidney dialysis machine. He had led her to believe that his brother needed one to survive. Investigators also learned that Field had a list of other victims which he wrote down under the heading: clients. These included his own parents and grandparents. The prosecutor stated: ‘In other words, potential sources of money.’

The modus operandi of Field was to befriend vulnerable, elderly people, change their will and ‘make sure they died’. To achieve this, he spiked Peter’s food and drink with hallucinogenic drugs as part of a sustained campaign of gaslighting. Peter had been given glasses of whisky that were ‘supercharged’, while his food was laced with drugs such as 2C-B. As the drugs took effect, Peter wrote in his journal that he was suffering hallucinations. He wrote that he was becoming ‘paralyzed’ at the sight of bright lights that appeared to him as he drove. Over time, he changed his will to benefit Field.

With Peter out of the equation, Field turned his attention to Ann. Field entered into a relationship with the elderly woman as part of an elaborate gaslighting plot to have her change her will. Prosecutor Saxby said: ‘Ann Moore-Martin was gushing about Benjamin Field. She sounded like a lovestruck teenager. It was as if she was hypnotised by him.’

Field embarked on a ‘campaign of mirror writing’ which led Ann to believe she was being contacted by God. In these messages, Field wrote in white marker pen and urged Ann to change her will. She did, opting to leave her home to him, but she later changed her mind shortly before she died.

Benjamin Field was found guilty of the murder of Peter Farquhar but was acquitted of conspiracy to murder Ann Moore-Martin. He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 36 years. In 2020, he appealed his conviction but the following year, that appeal was denied. Tom Field was later acquitted of fraud.