The Sixth Commandment True Story

TV

Warning: Contains the outcome of the murder investigation dramatised in The Sixth Commandment.

In November 2015, The Guardian published an obituary for retired English teacher Peter Farquhar under its “Other Lives” umbrella – a feature that pays tribute to the legacies of non-public figures. Written by a former pupil, it commemorated Peter as having inspired a love of literature in his students, who remember him with respect and affection. Peter had been found dead, aged 69, at his home in Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire on October 26th of that year. His death had not been considered suspicious.

Just over two years later in January 2018, Farquhar’s name was back in the press, this time as a suspected victim of murder. Two of Peter’s students at the University of Buckingham, 27-year-old deputy church warden Ben Field and magician 31-year-old Martyn Smith, had been arrested in connection with his death, and with that of his 83-year-old neighbour Ann Moore-Martin.

Peter Farquhar

In the four years leading up to Farquhar’s death, he’d been befriended by Ben Field through a shared interest in poetry and Christianity. Farquhar was a lay preacher, and Field was a deputy church warden who said he intended to become a vicar. Despite the multi-decade age gap, the pair entered into an (apparently celibate, due to Peter’s religious beliefs) intense romantic relationship and Field moved in to Farquhar’s home, where Smith was already a lodger. The previously healthy Farquhar then began to suffer from an unexplained onset of ill health, including hallucinations, collapses and severe confusion. 

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After making Field a beneficiary of his will, Farquhar died of an apparent alcohol overdose. Field had told Farquhar’s brother Ian that the retired teacher – not previously known to have been a problem drinker – had kept his alcoholism hidden. 

If that had been the extent of Field’s actions, remarked an investigating police officer in Channel 4 documentary Catching a Killer: a Diary From Beyond the Grave, then he would almost certainly had got away with his share in Peter’s estate, and no further suspicion. Instead, Field targeted a second victim.

Ann Moore-Martin

Ann Moore-Martin lived alone three doors away from Peter Farquhar, and was like him, a retired, unmarried teacher with strong Christian beliefs. Field groomed her in the same way he had groomed Farquhar, preying on her loneliness and using her religion to manipulate her into changing her will in his favour. He wrote her love letters and poetry, and messages on her mirror telling her not to leave her house to her niece, but instead to give it to him and she would be rewarded. She believed the messages were from God and angels.

When Moore-Martin also suffered an uncharacteristic onset of bad health after entering into a romantic relationship with Field, her relatives raised concerns with the police. Moore-martin’s niece suspected Field of drugging her aunt, who ended up in hospital following her frightening attacks. Unlike Farquhar, 83-year-old Moore-Martin reversed her will amendments before her death in May 2017.

Ben Field and Martyn Smith

Field is the son of a Baptist minister and a local councillor, and was reported by contemporaries at school to have been a highly intelligent, arrogant loner. After his psychiatric assessment in preparation for becoming an ordained minister, concerns were apparently raised over his potential for psychopathy.

Field appears to have used Martyn Smith, who suffered from depression and anxiety and is portrayed as being in thrall to Field, as a kind of scout. Field placed Smith as a lodger in Peter Farquhar and potential victim Liz Zettl’s homes before enacting his plans to defraud them of their estates. To what extent Smith was aware of Field’s plans and actions is in question, and Smith was not found guilty by a jury of murder, attempted murder or conspiracy to murder, in relation to Farquhar or Moore-Martin.

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Initially, neither was Field. His first arrest resulted in a bail release (“It’s not often you bail a murderer” remarked Thames Valley Police’s Mark Glover on a Channel 4 documentary about the case), but 10 months later, new evidence demanded re-arrests. Peter Farquhar’s body had been exhumed, and traces of non-prescription psychoactive drugs had been discovered in his hair follicles. The same drugs were discovered with Field’s fingerprints on the packaging, alongside references in Field’s notebooks to doses administered to Farquhar, along with a plan to end his life.

Following a three-month trial in 2019 and a 24-day deliberation period for the jury, Ben Field was found not guilty of the attempted murder of Ann Moore-Martin due to a lack of evidence. He was found guilty of Peter Farquhar’s murder and sentenced to a minimum of 36 years in prison.

Field is currently serving his life sentence, and has made two appeals against his conviction, one in 2021, which was rejected, and one in 2022. 

Channel 4 Doc “Catching a Killer: a Diary From Beyond the Grave”

Just two months after Ben Field received his prison sentence in October 2019, Channel 4 aired a feature-length documentary as part of its Catching a Killer docuseries. It’s still available to stream on channel4.com.

Made by True Vision Productions, the film enjoyed remarkable access to the investigation as it progressed. It includes home video footage of Peter Farquhar, as well as interviews with his brother, former pupils and friends. Field’s ex-girlfriend Lana is interviewed by police, first with no knowledge of the serious allegations made against him, and for a second time after the trial, when the weight of how close she and her family came to harm clearly haunts her. We see family members being updated on the progress of the case while it was ongoing, and during the months between Ben Field’s original arrest and subsequent re-arrest. 

In the documentary, footage is shown of Field being arrested and booked into police custody twice, as well as in his cell. Some lines spoken by him and recorded on CCTV are used verbatim in the BBC dramatisation The Sixth Commandment, which replicates some of his audio and video recordings. Multiple digital files made by Field are shared, including poetry, raps and sermons he wrote and performed, as well as details of notebooks he kept.

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Disturbingly, Field’s personal video collection shown in the documentary includes footage of Farquhar under the influence of a drink and drug cocktail, and a film Field took of himself ‘interviewing’ a clearly distressed dementia patient at the care home where he worked. Perhaps most upsetting of all is an audio recording of Farquhar’s body being discovered and bodycam footage of the ensuring police visit to examine the scene. 

All of the above is tied in with observation of the police investigation’s discoveries and case conferences, as well as details from Peter Farquhar’s extensively kept personal journals. It’s an exhaustive look at the journey from suspicion to conviction, but the documentary can’t tell the whole story…

BBC Drama The Sixth Commandment

Four-part BBC One drama The Sixth Commandment dramatises Peter Farquhar and Ann Moore-Martin’s stories with sensitivity, and righteous anger for how they were treated by Field. Produced with the cooperation of the victims’ families, the four episodes – one devoted to each victim, then two for the arrests and trial – stand as testament to the people they were and the extreme cruelty of what Field put them through.

The casting, with Timothy Spall playing Peter Farquhar and Anne Reid playing Ann Moore-Martin, is spot on, with performances that do the pair justice. Anybody who goes from this drama to existing footage of Ben Field too, will remark on how closely he’s been conjured by Irish actor Éanna Hardwicke.

Screenwriter Sarah Phelps (The Pale Horse, The ABC Murders) and director Saul Dibb (The Salisbury Poisonings) have clearly used the extant footage to replicate real scenarios, settings and characters, while retaining poetic license for scenes that could never have been witnessed – including a highly moving, imagined version of Farquhar’s final conversation with Field before his death.

The result is distressing but powerful, and has a poetic heart that might well have appealed to two schoolteachers such as Peter and Ann. Ultimately, this story is a warning against the heartless who prey on those in desperate need of companionship. It’s a tribute and a castigation, a love story and a horror story. As Peter, quoting John Keats, might have said: it tells of life.

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The Sixth Commandment is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer in the UK. It airs on Monday and Tuesday nights at 9pm from July 17th.

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