On 23 October 2020, Diocese of Oxford published the findings from the independent review into events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton; these concerned the murder of Peter Farquhar, a vulnerable member of the local church, by Ben Field, who also had roles within the church. In addition to the Press Release, reproduced below, the Diocese has published a summary briefing including the recommendations and diocesan responses, links to a “Seven Minute Briefing” and The Independent Safeguarding Review: lessons learnt from events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton, 2012-2019, (“the Independent Review”).
On 9 August 2019, the Oxford Crown Court found Benjamin Luke Field, a “deputy churchwarden” and PCC member guilty of murdering Peter Farquhar, an author, after tricking him into changing his will; on 12th August 2019, the Diocese of Oxford issued a statement from the Archdeacon of Buckingham regarding the verdict, which was reported in an earlier post.
The Archdeacon’s statement concluded: “[s]entencing will be followed by ‘lessons learned’ reviews by various organisations including the Diocese. Additionally, it included the following information for journalists:
- Was Ben Field a ‘trainee vicar’? No – Field was never considered for ordination training. [However, “[f]rom mid- 2015 Ben Field pursued an interest in the priesthood”, Independent Review, Section 4.10]
- Ben Field first joined the congregation at St Mary’s in 2013
- Ben Field was confirmed at the church in November 2015
- Ben Field became PCC secretary, a role elected by the congregation, in September 2014
- Ben Field became ‘deputy warden’ at the church in September 2014. The role of deputy warden is not a formal office in the Church of England and has no legal definition. [However, see Church Representation Rules – part 9, M34 (2)].
On 18 October 2019, the CPS issued the statement Churchwarden who manipulated his elderly neighbours jailed for murder which summarized the facts of the case; its Notes to Editors stated:
- Benjamin Field (DOB: 27/10/1990) was found guilty on 9 August 2019 of murdering Mr Farquhar, having earlier pleaded guilty to three offences of fraud and two of burglary
- He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 36 years on 18 October 2019.
[The sentencing remarks of The Honourable Mr Justice Sweeney Kt: The Queen v Benjamin Luke Field, Oxford Crown Court, 18 October 2019 are here.]
Oxford Diocese Press Release, 23 October 2020
The Diocese of Oxford has published a summary briefing and recommendations, along with the full report, from the independent review into events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton.
In 2017 Peter Farquhar was murdered. His need for an emotionally close relationship had been exploited, and an intelligent, talented man was made vulnerable. Peter was a member of his local church; his strong personal faith featured in the abusive relationship, and his murderer, Ben Field, also had roles within the church.
This was an extraordinary and unusual case. Everyone who came into contact with the murderer, Ben Field, was manipulated by him. He made a pretence of being a committed Christian and gained the confidence of the people of Stowe Parish Church.
The Church and wider society need to be ever more vigilant of those who can be made vulnerable by the likes of Ben Field, simply because they are elderly or lonely. For this reason, the Diocese of Oxford commissioned an independent review to establish lessons learnt from the events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton.
The review, commissioned by the Diocese of Oxford Safeguarding Panel, was carried out by Dr Adi Cooper, OBE, an independent consultant in adult safeguarding and adult social care. Dr Cooper makes 13 recommendations for improving safeguarding awareness and prevention as well as supporting a shift to a more open culture within the Church of England around safeguarding in all its complexity for parishes.
“Although the events in the Parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton were unusual, there is learning from them that can inform improvement in safeguarding policy and practice,” writes Dr Cooper. “The lessons from the harm done by Ben Field presents a challenge for the Church regarding specific themes: the abuse of trust in a religious paradigm, attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and safe recruitment both of clergy and volunteers.”
Responding to the report, the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, said: “I welcome the report and the recommendations it contains. The events to which it relates have caused immense distress to many. Following the trial and conviction of Ben Field, the Diocese was determined to learn what further action was required to ensure that potentially vulnerable adults attending church are adequately protected from harm. This review helps to challenge the commonly-held view that safeguarding is solely about preventing child abuse, and it is a clarion call for further improvements to our work on LGBTI+ inclusivity, our selection processes for clergy and volunteers, and the training and support the Church provides.”
23 October 2020
Notes for editors:
- The independent report and recommendations were published in full on 23 October. The Diocese will report progress against each of the recommendations during 2021.
- We believe this to be the first independent review concerning the Ben Field case. A Domestic Homicide Review is due to report in 2021
- The report and recommendations are published at oxford.anglican.org/events-in-stowe-maids-moreton/
- For media enquiries, call Steven Buckley 07824 906839 or Liz Hudson on 07702 563211
23RD OCTOBER 2020