Court Hears University Lecturer 'Could Have Been Smothered'

28 May 2019, 16:19 | Updated: 28 May 2019, 16:22

Oxford Crown Court sign

A university lecturer who was found dead on his sofa and was suspected of drinking himself to death could have been smothered, Oxford Crown Court has heard.

Peter Farquhar, 69, was found dead at his home in October 2015 with a half-empty bottle of whisky on the table next to him.

Oxford Crown Court heard that the former English teacher's death was treated as alcohol-related after a pathologist found he was three times the drink-drive limit - a concentration capable of causing his death.

A coroner later certified his cause of death as acute alcohol intoxication.

It was only when Mr Farquhar's neighbour, Ann Moore-Martin, 83, died in May 2017 that suspicions were raised about his death.

Mr Farquhar's remains were exhumed and a second post-mortem examination was carried out, which found traces of various drugs.

Church warden Benjamin Field, 28, is on trial alongside magician Martyn Smith, 32, charged with murdering Mr Farquhar and planning to kill Miss Moore-Martin following a sustained campaign of "gaslighting".

Field has admitted fraudulently being in relationships with Mr Farquhar and Miss Moore-Martin as part of a plot to get them to change their wills.

Prosecutors allege Field and Smith targeted Miss Moore-Martin, a former teacher, a few months after allegedly murdering Mr Farquhar in the village of Maids Moreton, Buckinghamshire.

Dr Brett Lockyer, a consultant forensic pathologist, said Mr Farquhar died as a result of the combined effects of alcohol and flurazepam, which could have affected his breathing.

Dr Lockyer said he could not rule out that Mr Farquhar might also been smothered with a pillow.

The pathologist said a toxicological analysis showed Mr Farquhar had been repeatedly exposed to lorazepam in the two months before he died, as well as flurazepam, diclazepam and flubromazolam.

In his conclusions, Dr Lockyer said: "The combination of flurazepam and alcohol is likely to have resulted in potentiation of the sedative effects of both substances and may have proved fatal through decreasing the level of consciousness and posing a threat to an adequate airway.

"Increased level of unconsciousness could have allowed third-party interference with the normal mechanics of breathing.

"Taking into account all the circumstances, the cause of death is sudden death of an elderly man with acute alcohol intoxication and flurazepam use who had been repeatedly exposed to various benzodiazepines over at least a six-month period."

Dr Lockyer said smothering someone already heavily sedated with a pillow over the face may not leave many overt signs so he could not rule it out as a possibility in Mr Farquhar's death.

"I am saying 'may' because there are other factors I cannot exclude, such as the possibility of other subtle trauma which has been lost due to the decomposition changes," he told the court.

"Someone could be smothered without leaving any injuries, so the application of a pillow would not necessarily leave any signs."

Oliver Saxby QC, prosecuting, suggested to Dr Lockyer that Mr Farquhar had died as result of the combination of alcohol, drugs and suffocation.

The pathologist replied: "In this case I can neither include or exclude the possibility of smothering."

The jury also heard from toxicologist Dr Vincent Cirimele, who said he had found no evidence of sedatives or psychoactive drugs in hair samples taken from Miss Moore-Martin's body.

Field and Smith deny murder, conspiracy to murder and possession of an article for the use in fraud.

Field, of Wellingborough Road, Olney, Buckinghamshire, also denies an alternative charge of attempted murder. He has admitted four charges of fraud and two of burglary.

Smith, of Penhalvean, Redruth, Cornwall, denies two charges of fraud and one of burglary.

Field's younger brother Tom, a 24-year-old Cambridge University graduate, of Wellingborough Road, Olney, Buckinghamshire, is also accused of a single charge of fraud.

The trial was adjourned until Wednesday.