England

Maids Moreton: How murderer Ben Field fooled a church

Ben Field in front of mirror message Image copyright Thames Valley Police
Image caption "Manipulative and evil" Ben Field left messages on one of his elderly victim's mirrors and persuaded her they were from God

Murderer Ben Field is starting a life sentence for killing an author to inherit his estate. But it wasn't just his elderly victims who were conned.

When Baptist minister's son Field joined worshippers at Stowe Parish Church, the congregation welcomed him as one of their own. He went on to become deputy churchwarden and showed ambition to become a vicar.

From the outside he seemed a staunch Christian. But Field was secretly manipulating two vulnerable victims - fellow member of the congregation Peter Farquhar, 69, and his 83-year-old neighbour, Ann Moore-Martin.

In August, 28-year-old Field was found guilty of murdering author Mr Farquhar in 2015. He was cleared of the attempted murder of Miss Moore-Martin.

"No-one who came into contact with Ben Field was not manipulated by him," the Diocese of Oxford said in a statement at the time.

And that is certainly true for the Stowe congregation and its members who were revealed to be on a list of 100 "clients" Field had identified as "useful" to him. The list included Miss Moore-Martin and his own grandparents.

Archdeacon of Buckingham Guy Elsmore said: "This was a young man who presented himself as faithful and friendly and helpful and was, in fact, the opposite of those things.

"There were one or two individuals who were close to Ben on whom the pastoral impact on this has been severe.

"People have found the whole experience deeply shocking and traumatic as anyone would."

Image copyright Thames Valley Police
Image caption Peter Farquhar (left) and Ben Field were engaged

Away from the church Field had other friends he duped.

Lucy - not her real name - had been friends with Field for a long time, and thought she knew everything about the man who made her laugh with his funny stories.

But she admitted to BBC Radio 5 Live documentary Killer in the Congregation that the "person I knew probably didn't ever exist".

"He was always a bit odd," she said. "Like loveable odd. The stories he told would make me laugh because he was always very good at observing people."

When Field was charged with murder, Lucy wanted to believe he was innocent.

But reading the evidence against him made her realise she didn't know him at all.

"I guess there's always a part of you that hopes it will turn out to be some weird joke and then you see photographic evidence and you're like 'oh God'," she said.

Image copyright Thames Valley Police
Image caption The trial heard Ann Moore-Martin had told her family she loved Benjamin Field

In the picturesque village of Maids Moreton, near Buckingham, Field fooled nearly everyone around him into thinking he was a caring, young Christian with a calling to become a priest.

At Oxford Crown Court, the truth emerged. Field was a master manipulator who used his knowledge of the church to seduce Mr Farquhar and Ms Moore-Martin.

He pretended he was in love with the two elderly, vulnerable neighbours so they would change their wills and leave him their money and houses. His victims were similar to each other in that they were single, deeply religious and did not have children.

During the trial, Field admitted he sometimes enjoyed tormenting Mr Farquhar and found it amusing. Mr Farquhar's brother Ian said hearing the callous disregard for his brother drove him to anger.

"I was coping fine until Ben went into the witness box," he said. "There was one day he just started saying disrespectful things about my brother, how everything he did to my brother was purely for gain.

"I realised I was really close to going up there and socking him."

Mr Farquhar was a revered academic who met Field when he was one of his students at the University of Buckingham

"Peter was a man with a very acute mind, a man who didn't suffer fools gladly… so it was a substantial thing that Ben did to dupe him," Ian Farquhar said.

Image copyright Thames Valley Police

Field nearly got away with Mr Farquhar's murder. It was only when police began investigating his dealings with Ms Moore-Martin that the truth was uncovered.

Just as he did with Mr Farquhar, Field pretended to be in love with the retired head teacher. He wrote her poetry and love letters and secretly wrote messages on Miss Moore-Martin's mirrors - hoping she would believe they were from God.

Miss Moore-Martin's niece was concerned about the relationship and alerted Thames Valley Police.

Senior investigating officer Mark Glover said: "Ann realised that she'd been had over in a massive massive way by Ben Field and she was humiliated and no doubt depressed about that."

Killer in the Congregation is available now on BBC Sounds by following the link

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