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Maids Moreton: Ben Field thought he would 'get away with it'

By Jo Black
BBC News

image copyrightThames 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

As Ben Field sat in the back of a police van after his arrest, he said: "I think I will get away with most of it." He had seduced two lonely neighbours - murdering one and defrauding the other - but now faces life in prison.

On the surface, 28-year-old Field was a charming, caring and religious young man who gave sermons in his father's Baptist church. But the former churchwarden had a sinister project: to befriend vulnerable individuals and get them to change their wills.

Mark Glover, who led the Thames Valley Police investigation into his crimes, summed him up: "Ben Field is all about Ben Field and nobody else."

image copyrightThames Valley Police
image captionPeter Farquhar and Ann Moore-Martin were both lonely and vulnerable

Field, of Olney, Bucks, has been convicted of murder and fraud after a 10-week trial. He was described by police as a "cold, calculated, manipulative, controlling, evil man".

The court was told he targeted two lonely neighbours who lived a few doors from each other in the village of Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire.

Peter Farquhar, 69, was a guest lecturer at the University of Buckingham, where Field had studied English literature. Ann Moore-Martin, 83, was a retired head teacher. Both victims were deeply religious, single and had no children.

Mr Farquhar had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances and was well-travelled, but he was also lonely. A gay man, he struggled with his sexuality, regarding it as incompatible with his Anglican faith.

Miss Moore-Martin was Catholic and also went to church regularly. She, like her neighbour, had friends aplenty but was fiercely private. She was very close to her niece, so much so, they regarded each other as mother and daughter.

Field seduced both his victims and they were besotted with him. Mr Farquhar thought he had found someone to love and grow old with, while Miss Moore-Martin's sister-in-law said she seemed hypnotised by him, like "a love-struck teenager".

The defendant proposed marriage to them both and even held a betrothal ceremony with Mr Farquhar in March 2014.

image copyrightThames Valley Police
image captionMr Farquhar and Field held a betrothal ceremony in 2014

While Mr Farquhar wrote in his journal, "it is one of the happiest moments of my life. Gone are the fears of dying alone", the court was told Field's motive was purely financial gain and that he was also seeing other people.

If he was to inherit Mr Farquhar's house, his victim had to die. And if he was to get away with it, his death needed to look like an accident or suicide.

Field drugged Mr Farquhar, secretly spiking his food and drink by feeding him a cocktail of sedatives and hallucinogens bought off the internet. They were covertly administered in various ways - on his toast, in his tea and broken up in chocolate. A video, found in Field's possession, shows the academic looking exhausted and struggling to form a sentence.

media captionMaids Moreton murder trial: Video shows victim struggling to speak

Before his death, Mr Farquhar told friends he was suffering from night terrors, hallucinations and bouts of sleepwalking. Some of his friends thought he had become confused or appeared drunk. He told friends he thought he was losing his mind and compared himself to Shakespeare's King Lear.

Field constructed a narrative to explain Mr Farquhar's behaviour. He told friends he was ill, or that he was drinking more than usual. The prosecution said Field was treated as someone shouldering the burden of looking after him.

In court, Field admitted drugging Mr Farquhar, telling jurors he did it because his partner would often be awake in the middle of night and active in the house, which would disrupt his own sleep.

image copyrightThames Valley Police
image captionMr Farquhar would often fall over after being drugged by Field

For months, Mr Farquhar was tormented by his "mystery illness". He saw a number of doctors including a neurologist and had various medical tests. But Field rang NHS 111 and 999 and lied to health workers, telling them the retired lecturer was "a frequent faller" who probably had dementia.

The court heard Field "gaslighted" both his victims, manipulating them psychologically so they ended up doubting their memory and sanity.

Field moved things around the house so Mr Farquhar would get irritated and confused when he couldn't find them - only for Field to arrive and find the missing items immediately.

The jury was told how Field publicly humiliated Mr Farquhar at a book launch at Stowe School by slipping him hallucinogenic drugs. He had retired as the public school's head of English in 2004 to concentrate on writing novels and one book launch attracted a large number of friends. Those who attended told a similar story of a frail, confused and apologetic man slumped at a table, visibly struggling to sign books, who at one point thought he was being attacked by shards of light.

In October 2015, Mr Farquhar died. He was discovered in his living room by his cleaner, a half empty bottle of whisky beside him.

His friends thought he had drunk himself to death - as did the coroner, who certified his cause of death as acute alcohol intoxication. But, during the trial, the prosecution said Field had "suffocated him" when he was too weak to resist.

Before his death, Mr Farquhar had changed his will, giving Field a life interest in his house. When the house was sold, he split the proceeds with Mr Farquhar's brother.

image copyrightPA
image captionMr Farquhar lived a few doors away from Miss Moore-Martin

Field had been introduced to Miss Moore-Martin by Mr Farquhar and the defendant pursued her in the same way, taking advantage of her loneliness and working his way into her affections.

Despite the 57-year age gap, they developed a sexual relationship. Unbeknown to her, he took a photograph of her performing a sex act on him. During his evidence he said he thought it could be used as something to blackmail her with if he needed to.

He gave her a number of items so she would feel closer to him. These included a framed picture of him with the words "I am always with you" written in capitals beneath his image, which she placed above her dressing table.

image copyrightThames Valley Police

He gave her a hand counter and told her to click it every time she thought of him. In one note, she said she was concerned she had not seen him for several days, and wrote: "My hand tally counter is being well used!"

In another note, the words "clickety x click!" appeared next to hand-drawn flowers and the words "I love you".

image copyrightAbell Jack
image captionMiss Moore-Martin wrote Field a letter

When Field wanted money, he lied about needing a new car and Miss Moore-Martin gave him £4,400. He told her his younger brother, Tom Field, was seriously ill with a kidney condition and needed a dialysis machine. It was another lie, but she was taken in and handed over £27,000.

In a recording of a phone call played in court, Field was heard ringing her bank then handing her the phone so she could speak to the operator about releasing money from bonds.

She told the bank: "I'm thinking of withdrawing all the money held in my accounts… I have a very dear friend who is the brother of another dear friend. He's extremely ill, he's got kidney difficulties and is likely to die if he doesn't have his own dialysis machine and I've been thinking of a way in which I can help him."

She ended the call by saying: "In life, one must not be selfish and keep everything to yourself."

media captionMaids Moreton: 83-year-old 'duped' woman's call to bank

Field's deceit extended to writing messages on his deeply religious victim's mirror, in the hope she would believe they were messages from God.

In his sketch books he planned the messages - how the writing would look, what the messages would say and what reasons there could be for them appearing. Some of the messages told her to leave her house to Field.

It worked and she changed her will.

In February 2017, Miss Moore-Martin became ill and suffered a seizure. It was during her hospital stay she confided in her niece about her relationship with Field and the writing on the mirrors. The police became involved and an investigation started.

Miss Moore-Martin reversed her will and changed it back to benefit her family and in May 2017 she died of natural causes in a care home.

Her niece, Anne-Marie Blake, told the court that before she died her aunt had begun to realise she had been duped and could not believe she had been so stupid as to fall for Field's lies.

"She was tortured by it and found it very difficult to get her head around the betrayal," she said.

image copyrightThames Valley Police
image captionField left messages "from God" for Miss Moore-Martin as part of his campaign to get her to make him the beneficiary of her will

Mrs Blake said when she met Field at her aunt's house after her hospital admission, she thought his manner was "weird". She challenged him and asked if he had been taking things from her aunt's home, accepting money from her and trying to change her will. He said he had. She also asked him whether he was in love with her aunt to which he said "yes".

During her stay in hospital, Field tried to visit her but he was denied access. The court heard he complained to the police and told the call operator: "A friend of mine was admitted to hospital and when I called the hospital and tried to visit, security have said that I can't see her and for more information I need to contact the police.

"I was calling to see if I could find out anything or what had been said about me, what the situation was."

In court he admitted he had made the calls to see how much the police knew about him and whether he was in trouble. His barrister, David Jeremy QC, asked him what had been the purpose of the call, and he replied: "To find out if my fraud was rumbled or not."

The police investigation established the link between Field, Miss Moore-Martin and Mr Farquhar and 19 months after the latter's death a decision was taken to exhume his body. A second post-mortem examination established he had consumed less alcohol than had been thought and there were sedatives in his system.

image copyrightThames Valley Police
image captionAnn Moore-Martin was "like a love-struck teenager" around Field, according to her niece

Dr Brett Lockyer, a consultant forensic pathologist, said Mr Farquhar died as a result of the combined effects of alcohol and flurazepam, which could have affected his breathing. He said he could not rule out that Mr Farquhar might also been smothered with a pillow. The pathologist said a toxicological analysis showed Mr Farquhar had been repeatedly exposed to lorazepam in the two months before he died, as well as other sedatives.

Field was arrested and his home was searched, where police found diaries and notebooks containing a list of people's names with the title, 100 Clients. It was described by Field in court as a list of "people who may be useful to me, either as targets of fraud or in other ways".

Members of his own family were listed - and so was Miss Moore-Martin. Books about poisoning people and planning a suicide were also discovered.

Principal investigator Mr Glover said: "[Field] got massive pleasure from other people's misery and pain and it was all about financial gain or gain in some shape or form to Ben Field. [He was] a nasty, cruel man."

Although he denied planning to kill the two neighbours he did admit to being in fraudulent relationships with them as part of a plot to get them to change their wills. Field also pleaded guilty to defrauding Miss Moore-Martin out of money he said was for a car and a dialysis machine, but was acquitted of conspiring to kill her.

He stood trial alongside his friend, magician Martyn Smith, 32, from Redruth in Cornwall, who was accused of murder, conspiracy to murder, fraud and burglary. He was acquitted of all the charges.

Field's younger brother, Tom Field, 24, from Olney, was also acquitted of one count of fraud.

Ben Field is now facing a life sentence, but his early confidence that he would "get away with most of it" - secretly recorded while he sat in a police van - was not entirely misplaced.

"In terms of the death of Peter Farquhar, there's a very good chance that Benjamin Field would have got away with that death had it not been for the suspicions that were raised once Ann Moore-Martin was removed from Benjamin's control," said Chris Derrick, of the Crown Prosecution Service.

"In fact, at that stage he had already gotten away with it - it was only due to the new forensics that came from exhuming the body that we were able to build a case that indicated Benjamin Field had in fact killed Peter."

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