Independent report: Lessons learnt from events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton, 2012-2019
In 2015 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 also had roles within the church.
There were many complexities in detecting the harm he had suffered, requiring considerable police work and the testimony of other adults to bring about a conviction following a trial in the Summer of 2019. 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 and then, to quote his own words, “I’m gonna become a vicar … just because I can outmanoeuvre the Church.”
The Church and wider society needs 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 report and a summary guide are published here in the hope that churches, and community groups, are alerted to the risks of elder abuse.
The independent reviewer has also made recommendations relating to diocesan and Church of England processes. We welcome her report and the recommendations it contains (though we do not agree with every observation that she has made about Church governance, structure and teaching). Nevertheless, our commitment to learning and transparency in safeguarding means that the independent report is published in full, along with our response to each recommendation.
We believe this to be the first independent review published concerning this case. As other institutions publish their findings we will provide links on this page.
Redactions and timetable for publication
The independent reviewer, Dr Adi Cooper, OBE, was commissioned by the Diocese to undertake an independent review of this case in September 2019, shortly after the trial had concluded. Dr Cooper's report was received and considered on 24 April 2020 by the Diocesan Independent Safeguarding Panel, chaired by Peter Hay, CBE. The report was finalised by the independent reviewer in May 2020 to reflect feedback from the Panel.
Publication of the report was delayed due to COVID-19 and, following news of an appeal by Ben Field, seeking legal opinion on the publication of this report. The recent death of a much-loved minister in the congregation at Stowe further delayed publication of the report. No redactions have been made to the body of published report, though appendix C, a chronology of confidential records, has been withheld from publication. This web page has been shared with all members of the church congregation by email and sent to all parish safeguarding officers in the Diocese of Oxford.
The independent chair of the Oxford Diocesan Safeguarding Panel has prepared a briefing document outlining seven themes arising from the independent report. This is to ensure that the observations and recommendations from this review are widely available and accessible.
Please note that this seven-minute briefing is referred to as 'Appendix E' in the full report.
- The need for emotional intimacy is universal.
- Volunteers must be supported and monitored.
- Screening of people exploring ordained ministry is recommended.
- The Diocese needs to review how it shares information.
- It is important to have difficult conversations with people.
- We need to build on work to support parishioners and clergy to recover from trauma.
- Inclusivity is key to a safer church.
The Independent Safeguarding Review: lessons learnt from events in the parishes of Stowe and Maids Moreton, 2012-2019
Please refer to the note on redactions and timetable for publication in the page introduction. This report was commissioned by the Diocese of Oxford to review the circumstances highlighted by the trial and conviction of Ben Field and identify learning to improve the safeguarding of potentially vulnerable adults attending church.
The report is based on records provided by the Diocese and interviews undertaken by the independent reviewer between September and December 2019.
A list of acronyms along with a glossary of terms that may be unfamiliar to readers is included at the bottom of this web page.
If you are affected
If you or anyone you are in contact with are affected by themes contained in the publication of this report and want to talk to someone independently please call the Safe Spaces helpline on 0300 303 1056 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The diocese has also made special provision for the congregations in Stowe and Maids Moreton.
If you would like to speak to an authorised listener, or are in need of pastoral support, then please get in touch with the incumbent, who will provide you with confidential contact details.
Additionally, the Diocese of Oxford LGBTQIA+ Chaplaincy Service offers listening and support, and prayerful affirmation for LGBTQIA+ people, their families and friends. The service is part of a diocesan-wide commitment to foster an attitude of inclusion and respect across the diversity of sexual and gender identities in our church and in the world. Find out more.
The independent review found that significant improvements had already been made in safeguarding policy and practice since the events in Stowe and Maids Moreton. However, there are several areas in the report that indicate further improvements can be made.
"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. 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."
We do not disagree. We are also mindful of the needs of the congregations in Stowe and Maids Moreton as they begin the long journey of healing. This report will be challenging to read for everyone who knew Peter and everyone who was involved in this case. Change, and healing, takes time and cannot be done in a room alone. We will support those who wish to to come together to process and work through together the observations and recommendations in this report in a redemptive way, starting this Autumn.
The Living in Love and Faith (LLF) learning materials, due for publication by the national Church in November, may also prove timely. Note: the LLF resources were published on 9 November 2020 - click here to view and in November 2022 the Bishop of Oxford published Together in Love and Faith, which called on the Church of England to bless and marry same-sex couples.
The review 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. There are several recommendations that apply equally to other dioceses and some of the recommendations touch on national policy and approach across the Church of England. With this in mind, we have shared the report and its recommendations with the Archbishops’ Council. Please note that our action plan is lodged with the Domestic Homicide Review (DHR).
Our safeguarding journey
Safeguarding is part of the mission of the church, and part of who we are. During the last few years the Diocese of Oxford has...
- Grown the safeguarding team to 5.8 full time equivalent staff.
- Ensured the independent chair of the safeguarding panel can, and does, hold the Diocese to account.
- Systematically trained clergy and church officers in safeguarding, including C4 training for the senior team. In 2022 our safeguarding team handled over 500 safeguarding queries, arranged drop-in sessions for over 200 Parish Safeguarding Officers, and organised training for 7,600+ participants, delivered through over 100 on-line or on-site training events.
- Delivered a culture change in the handling of safeguarding disclosures.
- Increased our corporate understanding of the nature of abuse and increased awareness of those who are isolated or lonely being at risk of abuse.
There is always more to be done. We see learning as central to the culture of a safe church, which includes learning from this review.
Documents and media links related to this case
- Press release and statement by Bishop Steven
- Statement on the Ben Field verdict - 12 August 2019
- There was significant national media interest in this case. We recommend 'Killer in the congregation' broadcast by BBC Radio and available to listen to online as a useful summary of this case.
- BAP - Bishops Advisory Panel
- DBS - Disclosure Barring Service
- DDO - Diocesan Director of Ordinands
- DSA – Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor
- MDR – Ministerial Development Review
- PCC - Parochial Church Council
- PSO - Parish Safeguarding Officer
- TVP - Thames Valley Police
- Adult safeguarding review See footnote 2 of full report
- Archdeacon There are four Archdeacons in the Diocese of Oxford. Archdeacons are senior priests with responsibility under the bishops for the pastoral care of clergy in the archdeaconry and for ensuring they are performing their duties correctly. Archdeacons are also responsible for making sure that church buildings and their contents are properly looked after, and they have an important role in the appointment of clergy to new posts. The Diocese of Oxford has the largest archdeaconries in the Church of England. For this reason, the Diocese appointed three Associate Archdeacons in 2020.
- Archdeaconry Every diocese is divided into a number of Archdeaconries. In the Diocese of Oxford, these are overseen by the Area Bishop (see below) and the Archdeacon.
- Bishop Each diocese has a Diocesan Bishop. In the Diocese of Oxford, Bishop Steven is assisted by three other area bishops (Dorchester, Reading and Buckingham) who have delegated responsibility for their areas. The areas are coterminous with the four archdeaconries of Oxford Diocese.
- Bishops Advisory Panel The role of the BAP is to rigorously examine a candidate’s suitability and to make a recommendation as to whether that individual should go forward for ordination training. A selection panel typically takes place in a residential setting over a 48 hour period. During COVID-19 BAPs have taken place online.
- Blue File All important and enduring information about clergy is kept on or copied to a confidential clergy file, known as a ‘blue file’. This is the main personnel record of any clerical ministry in the Church of England, and the file will follow members of the clergy if they move to another diocese. These records enable bishops to exercise their ministry of oversight and pastoral care as well as their canonical responsibilities, especially that of commending someone for any particular future ministry.
- Chalice bearer A person who assists the minister in the distribution of communion during a church service.
- Church officer Anyone appointed/elected by or on behalf of the Church to a post or role, whether they are ordained or lay, paid or unpaid.
- Churchwarden Churchwardens are elected by the parish. Together with the parish priest, they are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the parish. Although reported as such in the media, Ben Field was not a churchwarden. See deputy warden, below.
- Core group Every safeguarding concern or allegation involving a church officer should be managed by a defined core group, convened for the specific situation.
- DBS check A DBS check is a criminal records check obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). A DBS certificate shows certain convictions or cautions and it can also show if the person is unsuitable to work with children or adults. Anyone volunteering for a regulated activity in the church is required to have a DBS check. See also Safer Recruitment.
- Deanery Archdeaconries are divided into deaneries. A deanery is a small group of parishes, one of whose parish priests serves as the rural, or area, dean. Area Deans and Rural Deans provide an important link between the bishops and the deanery. They must report concerns or important information to the bishop and provide pastoral care for other clergy in the deanery.
- Deputy Warden The title of deputy warden is not a formal office in the Church of England and has no legal definition.
- Designated Officer The Designated Officer is a senior lawyer employed by the Church House Legal Office in the event of a complaint made under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) moving to formal investigation.
- Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) To be considered for selection for ordination training, candidates must have the support of their parish and be sponsored by the area bishop. The bishop is assisted in this by the DDO, who has responsibility for those who are seeking ordination.
- Diocesan Registrar See registrar
- Diocese The Church of England is made up of 42 Dioceses. Each of the English dioceses (and the Diocese in Europe) has a structure of boards and councils responsible for different aspects of the Church's work including ministry, mission and education. The Diocese of Oxford is one of the largest in the Church of England.
- Discernment The discernment process is the means by which candidates are selected for future ministry with the Church of England. See also Bishops Advisory Panel (BAP) and Ordination
- Ecclesiastical Lawyer The Church of England has a system of law drawn from statute, legislation, common law and the canons of the Church. An ecclesiastical lawyer is a specialist in this body of law.
- Exhumation To remove a body from a grave. Christian burial is final. Therefore an application for a faculty for exhumation must be made by submitting a formal petition to the consistory court.
- Gaslighting See appendix D of full report
- Grooming See appendix D of full report
- House of Bishops The House of Bishops consists of the diocesan bishops, seven other bishops and the Bishop of Dover. The House meets several times each year.
- Ministerial Development Review (MDR) The MDR is a guided discussion framed around an office holder’s ministry. The purpose of the review is to look back and reflect on what has happened over the last year or two of ministry and, informed by that, to anticipate and develop a clearer vision for what lies ahead.
- Office Holder Clergy are not employees of the Church of England but office holders. This means that they are not subject to employment law, but they are granted certain legal rights and obligations. All clergy are subject to the same standards as outlined in the Clergy Discipline Measure and Guidelines for the Conduct of Clergy.
- Ordinand A person who is training to be ordained as a minister.
- Ordination At the completion of training a recommendation is made by the college or course to the sponsoring bishop whether or not a candidate should be ordained.
- Parish Safeguarding Officer (PSO) The Parish Safeguarding Officer is the key link between the Diocese and the parish/s, concerning safeguarding matters. They have an overview of all church activities involving children, young people and vulnerable adults and will seek to ensure the implementation of safeguarding policy.
- Parochial Church Council (PCC) PCC members are trustees under charity law. PCC members work with the minister in promoting the mission of the church, who has a duty to consult the PCC on matters of general concern and importance to the parish. In practice, this includes almost everything to do with the church’s work in the parish, its relationship with the deanery and the diocese, as well as responsibility for the care and upkeep of the church, churchyard and moveable items.
- PCC secretary A PCC Secretary supports the PCC Chair in the preparation and organisation of meetings and to handle all correspondence on behalf of the PCC
- Province Church of England dioceses are grouped into two Provinces, each overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury (the Southern Province) and the Archbishop of York (the Northern Province).
- Registry The Registry is the legal office of the Diocese. Its officers are appointed, and its work is governed by a large number of statutes and measures. The diocesan registry advises parishes and church officers on the variety of legal matters which arise from time to time in parish life. The registry also gives general advice to hundreds of churchwardens, clergy and PCC members about their various roles and duties.
- Registrar The Registrar is the Bishop of Oxford’s legal advisor as well as registrar of the diocesan synod – the governing council of the Diocese. The role also involves being clerk to the Oxford consistory court – the court that makes decisions on issues including the granting of faculties for the use of/works to churches and churchyards.
- Rule of optimism See appendix D of full report
- Safeguarding prevention Everyone has a fundamental right to be safe. Preventative Safeguarding includes a range of actions and measures such as practical help, care, support and interventions designed to promote the safety, well- being and rights of adults which reduce the likelihood of, or opportunities for, harm to occur.
- Safer Recruitment Safer recruitment practice is an essential part of the Church of England’s approach to safeguarding. Church of England policy and guidance sets out safer recruitment practices for people working or volunteering with children and adults.
- Spiritual adviser (aka Spiritual director) An individual, ordained or lay, who has a ministry of holy listening and empathy. They enable another person to discern God at work in their lives. The spiritual advisor does not lead or decide for another, but accompanies that person prayerfully.
Elements of this glossary were adapted from ‘A guide to the Church of England’ published by Bloomsbury, and online resources from the Ecclesiastical Law Association together with the Dioceses of Guildford, London, St Albans, Ely and Essex. In the event of errors or omissions, please contact email@example.com