True-crime case: The Sixth Commandment

By Gen Terblanche28 March 2024

True-crime case: The Sixth Commandment

In the quiet Buckinghamshire village of Maids Moreton, retired English lecturer and novelist Peter Farquhar and his neighbour three doors down, retired primary school headmistress Ann Moore-Martin, could have stepped right out of an Agatha Christie novel. But their lover, companion and killer, young deputy church warden Ben Field, would be more at home in a nasty-minded thriller.

After Ben selected his victims, he started a years-long campaign to seduce, gaslight, mentally torture and even drug and poison them for his amusement. He destroyed their lives and reputations with pointed cruelty, like a parasite that fed off their kindness and slow degradation. The money he defrauded his victims out of was a bonus.

He might have gotten away with murder if the police hadn’t found Ben’s gloating diaries, notebooks and internet chatroom logs, and cross-referenced them with Peter’s own journals … or if Ann hadn’t sparked suspicion in the first place when she insisted to her doctors that Peter had given her a strange white powder.

The case shocked the UK as the court unmasked how Ben Fields had used faith, love and loneliness as weapons. And while the true-crime drama series The Sixth Commandment details Ben’s (Éanna Hardwicke) bizarre schemes, the real story is about Peter (Timothy Spall) and Ann (Anne Reid) – two people who deserved a better ending.

Binge The Sixth Commandment on Showmax now.

They weren’t just victims

The Sixth Commandment S1 is on Showmax

“A lot of TV programmes give you the sense that you’re falling under the spell of the killer, who’s incredibly intelligent, with some grand plan, but I wanted to understand and honour the victims, to give them life and dignity. They were more than just Ben Field’s victims,” says The Sixth Commandment’s writer-creator Sarah Phelps, who’s renowned for her adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels in series like The ABC Murders and The Pale Horse.

“That backstory was really important for me. Peter and Ann led full, vibrant, intelligent, educated lives…It was vital to me to go beyond seeing a photo of somebody in the paper, which is how you then remember them. There’s all the life they’d led before they died, filled with their kindness, their curiosity, their generosity, their open heartedness, their faith, all of which made them a target in this case. It was really important to convey all of that spirit, rather than let Field have the final word.”

A dark fairytale

Ben Field and Ann Moore Martin in The Sixth Commandment

Sarah sees what Ben Fields did to Peter and Ann as a terrifying fairytale about betrayed love. And in fairytale fashion, her ever-present guide to telling the tale came from beyond the grave. “It was Peter’s diaries that helped the police to crack the case and to identify Field as a killer. He wrote assiduously every day, right down to the smallest, seemingly ridiculous, most tiny detail. This man spent so much of his time writing about how kind Ben was being to him, bringing him cups of tea – and how four hours later he fell down the stairs,” Sarah reveals.

The show details many of Ben’s schemes that came out during the reading of the diaries, including the fact that he maliciously drugged Peter just before he was due to appear at a book signing.

A circle of survivors

The Sixth Commandment on Showmax

The Sixth Commandment was made with the cooperation and approval of Peter and Ann’s surviving friends and family – including Peter’s brother Ian, his wife Sue, and Ann’s niece Anne-Marie – who’re still grappling with the horror of the case. They also consulted with the lead investigator on the case (which involved over 100 police personnel), DCI Mark Glover (played by Jonathan Arris in the series).

One of the show’s executive producers, Derek Wax, was a pupil at Manchester Grammar School where Peter Farquhar was an English teacher. He notes, “We’re not following a sociopathic person around and seeing the world through his eyes, we’re witnessing the fallout and emotional consequences of what Ben Field did to these very ordinary people who happened to be related to Peter Farquhar or Ann Moore-Martin. They all respond differently because nobody can quite believe that Ben Field is other than what he says he is. So it scars them in different ways and takes them into very difficult emotional territory.”

Thou shalt not…

The sixth commandment is “thou shalt not kill”. And in the world of modern true crime, there’s a growing commitment to a new commandment: thou shalt not make killers look cool and sexy. With members of the cast calling Ben “despicable”, “evil”, and “bizarre and ghastly”, The Sixth Commandment passes with flying colours.

Binge The Sixth Commandment on Showmax now.

Three more victim-first true crime shows

Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes: Journalist Ronan Farrow’s investigation exposes not just Hollywood producer rapist and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, but the network of enablers and systems that silenced his victims. And he does so by giving the survivors space to tell their stories in a set of interviews that teases out the common threads between them, and what they were up against when they tried to speak out.

Libby, Are You Home Yet?: In 2019, university student Libby Squire was kidnapped, raped and murdered on the way home from a club. Her mother Lisa worked with documentary maker Anna Hall, Libby’s friends, and the Humberside police to reclaim Libby’s story. Along the way they confront the epidemic of violence against women in the UK, question the legal system’s approach to sex offences, and tell a sensitive story about the impact of losing a beloved child and friend.

The Vow: Over two seasons, true crime series The Vow takes us inside the NXIVM “self improvement” cult and pyramid scheme to reveal how its leader, Keith Raniere, was convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering, forced labour conspiracy, and wire fraud in October 2020. The series’ creators worked hand-in-hand with journalistic ethics groups, and sent episodes to an anti-sexual assault organisation to ensure that they didn’t fetishise the abuse or further violate the survivors. The goal of the documentary as a whole is to expose the mechanisms within NXIVM that were deliberately laid down to groom recruits for abuse.

Watch more true crime on Showmax now.