What can we learn from the horrific murder of Peter Farquhar by Benjamin Field?
The newspaper reports into the death of Peter Farquhar by the man who emotionally and financially abused him for years, highlight the opportunities for systematic grooming and financial crime against the elderly. The Metro reports that Field preyed on Farquhar before seducing, drugging, getting him to change his will and finally killing him presumably in order to benefit from the Will of which he was a beneficiary. We read that Field was additionally charged with the attempted murder of Ann Moore Martin, and had a list of 100 other targets.
Three years ago, I wrote an academic paper on the fact that the current legal framework does not adequately protect those at risk of financial abuse. In 2000, the Government published their No Secrets Guidance that defined financial abuse as theft, fraud, exploitation, pressure in connection with will making, property or financial transactions or the misuse of property, possessions or benefits. And yet, at each opportunity, the legislation and regulation that opens up opportunities for perpetrators of abuse is loosened.
Had Field not been tempted to murder Farquar, his financial crimes and emotional abuse may have gone undetected. Because the fact is, that an Executor and beneficiary of a will can obtain probate in the Probate registry very easily, and there is very often no-one in a position to question it. The same with a Lasting Power of Attorney; systematic financial abuse can go on undetected for years, without scrutiny, as the increase in safeguarding cases has revealed. Will writing is an unregulated activity; that means that anyone can purport to be a professional and write a will for another, and of course there exists the right to write out your own will. It is extremely difficult to prove that a will was made under undue influence or duress, and even without testamentary capacity.
If someone is elderly, alone and vulnerable, they are easy prey to a friendly perpetrator. They are sinister and systematic in their techniques, just as any other abuser. The difference between the financial abuse of an elderly person is that if the abuse culminates in the perpetrator being the executor and beneficiary of the will, when the victim dies, there is often no-one in a position to; a) challenge the will, and b) the evidence, ie the person who has made the will, is dead.
I have dealt with numerous very upsetting cases of financial abuse. They are difficult, and expensive to run. One such case involved a single woman in her 80s who had lost her home, and all her savings to a friendly builder who offered to be her Attorney. It was luck that brought her case to light, and of course we then found the will that he had made online for her. He had been recommended to her by a friend who has since died. And he was the Executor and beneficiary of that friend too. The difference? Nothing can be done about the first friend to die. This is systematic abuse. There is no easy fix to the current framework that allows these perpetrators to prey on the vulnerable, but let us hope that the tragic case of Andrew Farquhar brings the inadequacies to the attention of those that can change it.