Gay retired teacher groomed and murdered by churchwarden was ‘put at risk’ by Church of England’s anti-LGBT+ stance

Peter Farquhar

A gay retired teacher who was abused and murdered by a churchwarden was “vulnerable to exploitation” because of the church’s anti-gay policies, an independent investigation found.

Peter Farquhar, 69, was subjected to physical and mental abuse by Benjamin Field, who strangled him to death in 2015. Field, then 28, was jailed for life last year after admitting to poisoning, gaslighting and defrauding Farquhar to inherit his wealth.

A review commissioned by the diocese of Oxford found that Field was able to groom his elderly victim by taking advantage of his homosexuality, which he hid from the church.

The parish’s “homophobic attitudes” meant that Farquhar’s sexual orientation was “known but not acknowledged by most people who knew him”, said the report, published on Friday (October 23).

“He struggled to reconcile his own conservative Christian beliefs with his sexual orientation. The closed culture of the Stowe Church in general, including attitudes towards homosexuality, meant that Peter Farquhar’s homosexuality and the relationship [with] Ben Field was a ‘well-known secret’.

“The wider policies of the Church of England regarding homosexual practice and approach to sexuality and relationships put Peter Farquhar at risk and vulnerable to exploitation.”

It contends that “a culture which supported openness and transparency would have better safeguarded Peter Farquhar”, adding that as long as people continue to feel forced to hide or lie about their sexuality, “they can become vulnerable to exploitation” as he was.

The review further suggests that emotional intimacy is a basic human need, and all adults have the potential to be made vulnerable in this way.

Benjamin Field drugged Peter Farquhar more than 50 times before his death

Peter Farquhar believed that he had an “emotionally intimate” friendship with Benjamin Field, who duped him into a fake relationship with a “betrothal” ceremony.

After persuading the older man to change his will, he then laced his food and drinks with alcohol and drugs and convinced him the effects were the result of dementia. He also read the pensioner’s diary to stay ahead of his thoughts and manipulate him further.

Because they’d agreed to keep their relationship secret, few people were aware Farquhar was in danger.

The review acknowledges that some parishioners weren’t taken in by Field’s “scam” but they remained silent due to “the negative perception of ‘gossip’ in Evangelical settings”.

Farquhar’s plight was compounded by the fact that he confusingly articulated his hallucinations and feelings of vulnerability in spiritual terms, describing the presence of “evil” or “evil spirits” in his home.

“His distress was responded to spiritually as it was believed to be a spiritual matter,” the report noted.

It makes 13 recommendations for improving safeguarding and vetting volunteers, and calling for a “more open culture within the church”.

“It is tragic that it takes the horrific death of Peter Farquhar for the church to wake up to the deadly cost of its attitude to homosexuality,” Jayne Ozanne, who campaigns for LGBT+ equality in the Church of England, told the Guardian.

“Until we recognise the significant harm being done because of the our refusal to embrace those of us who are gay, the C of E will remain a serious safeguarding risk. Its culture of secrecy and hypocrisy must end, and it must start at the top.”