A “cruel, calculating” church warden has been found guilty of murdering a university lecturer but been acquitted, along with a magician, of plotting to kill a retired headteacher.
Benjamin Field, 28, was convicted of killing Peter Farquhar, 69, and trying to make his death look like an accident or suicide.
His co-defendant Martyn Smith, a 32-year-old magician, was acquitted at Oxford crown court.
After protracted deliberations, Field and Smith were both cleared of a charge of conspiracy to murder Ann Moore-Martin, 83, and Field was also acquitted of her attempted murder.
Prosecutors said Field killed Farquhar as part of a plot to get him to change his will in order for Field to benefit financially following a sustained campaign of “gaslighting”. He and Smith were accused of a similar plan to kill Moore-Martin, but after 77 hours the jury acquitted both men on that charge.
Field, a Baptist minister’s son, admitted fraudulently being in relationships with Farquhar and Moore-Martin as part of the plot but denied any involvement in their deaths.
The senior investigating officer, Mark Glover, said Field fitted the profile of a psychopath. “Cruel, calculating, manipulative, deceitful. I don’t think evil is too strong a word for him,” he said.
Glover said Field had taken pleasure in tormenting his victim and torturing him physically and mentally, adding: “Everything is about Ben Field and Ben Field’s gain.”
The pair were accused of murdering Farquhar in the village of Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire in October 2015 and later targeting Moore-Martin, who died in May 2017 of natural causes.
Prosecutors alleged that Field, who had undergone a “betrothal” ceremony with Farquhar, had a “profound fascination in controlling and manipulating and humiliating and killing”.
He had also drawn up a “100 clients” list, which included his parents, grandparents and brother, who the prosecution said were future targets.
Prosecutors argued Field had come up with an “intricate” plot, including drugging, alcohol poisoning, suffocation, falls, attempts to cause heart failure, car crashes and unwitting overdoses.
Field and Smith met Farquhar when they were students at Buckingham University. The defendants struck up a friendship with him and began lodging with him. Oliver Saxby QC, the lead prosecutor, told the jury that Field saw that “Peter was vulnerable. And this was something, from the very outset, he decided to exploit.”
Field and Farquhar soon entered into a relationship and had a formal ceremony, which they called a betrothal ceremony. In one diary entry, Farquhar described the event as “one of the happiest moments of my life. Gone are the fears of dying alone.”
Moore-Martin lived a few doors away from Farquhar. Like him, she was unmarried and had no children. Saxby told the court she was “fundamentally lonely”.
Prosecutors argued that Field and Smith embarked on a campaign of “gaslighting” to get Moore-Martin to question her sanity. They hid things around her house and encouraged thoughts of suicide, the jury was told. Both defendants also wrote messages on Moore-Martin’s mirrors at home that were “biblical in nature”, telling her to leave her house to Field.
Chris Derrick, the head of the complex casework unit at the Crown Prosecution Service’s Thames-Chiltern office, said: “I think torture is a word that can be used to described Benjamin Field’s behaviour. He is clearly a very calculating and ruthless man who spent a great deal of time planning what he was going to do.”
Field denied murdering Farquhar, maintaining he could have died from taking his usual dose of flurazepam and drinking whisky. He admitted to defrauding Moore-Martin of £4,000 to buy a car.
Smith told the jury he was unaware that Field was in a relationship with Farquhar or that he was gaslighting and defrauding him. He also said he had no idea he was a beneficiary of Farquhar’s will.
In a statement released by his solicitor, Smith said: “I am relieved that this ordeal is finally over.”
Thanking his legal team, friends and family for their support, he added: “The lessons I take from this case are first and foremost to always be your own person and secondly to always choose your friends very carefully.”
Field’s brother Tom, 24, a university graduate, was cleared of a single charge of fraud.
Tom Field did not give evidence in the trial and his barrister argued the prosecution’s own evidence demonstrated he had no case to answer.
Benjamin Field showed no emotion as the jury forewoman returned the verdicts.
When his brother, who was on bail, was released from the dock he hugged his parents.
Mr Justice Sweeney adjourned sentencing until a pre-sentence psychiatric report had been carried out.