TV review: We must be careful that murder doesn't become entertainment

Billy, Titch and Martin in the Speedshop workshop. (C) GW Productions
Billy Foley

Catching A Killer: A Diary From The Grave, Channel 4, Monday at 9pm

It's not the typical response an arresting sergeant gets from a murder suspect.

But then the murder of retired Cambridge professor Peter Farquhar was not a typical crime by an archetypal criminal.

Mr Farquhar had been seduced by Ben Field and then slowly poisoned by the much younger man when he had inveigled his way into Farquhar's will.

Standing at the counter in the police station, Field was asked his occupation by the arresting officer.

“I'm in the process of completing a book on 18th Century poetry,” said Field.

And then the churchwarden added a request before being brought to the holding cell. “I'm expecting this will be a dull time, would you have a book or anything I could read?”

Erudite, polite and a suspected psychopath, Ben Field (28) was convicted last August of the murder of Mr Farquhar (69) and sentenced to 36 years in jail.

He was acquitted of plotting to kill Mr Farquhar's neighbour, Ann Moore-Martin (83), but police suspected he was in the process of targeting another elderly lady.

Field carried out a “gaslighting” plot to make Mr Farquhar question his sanity, while at the same time saying he loved the lonely older man. At one stage the couple took part in a “betrothal” ceremony, with Mr Farquhar writing in his diary that it was the happiest day of his life.

The pensioner's food was laced with drugs and his drinks had pills and poteen added.

Eventually Field suffocated him when he was too weak to resist and left a half-empty bottle of whisky in Mr Farquhar's room to suggest that he was an alcoholic.

Amazingly, Field, who had delivered the eulogy at the funeral, had almost gotten away with it.

Farquhar's death was put down to alcohol poisoning despite a later post-mortem and toxicology report finding he did not have the fatty liver typical of an alcoholic and there was insufficient alcohol in his system to kill him.

This only emerged once police exhumed his body when they became suspicious following the death of Ms Moore-Martin.

It was Mr Farquhar's extensive dairies that really built a case for police and later a treasure trove of evidence that Field had kept in his flat.

The feature length film (105 minutes) was gripping but I was left wondering how appropriate it was.

Crime drama and true crime have always had a significant following, but the spectacular success of crime podcasts have left traditional broadcasters craving this kind of material.

Mr Farquhar's story is also explored on the ‘Dead Bodies Podcast' and a BBC 5 Live podcast, ‘Killer in the Congregation.'

Explaining the nature of police work and the justice system, allowing a family to tell their story and exposing a killer are all legitimate journalism, but it should not be entertainment.


The Speedshop, BBC 2, Sunday at 8pm

There was no doubting the purpose of The Speedshop.

It was for the BBC to hang onto the Top Gear audience which is brilliantly served by some of the specialist channels.

This was television for gear-heads and introduced us to new presenter Titch Cormack.

He builds custom motorbikes for specialist customers like ex-para Chris who has lost a leg but is determined to challenge himself by biking in the Alps.

Cormack spent ten years in the British military himself, serving in the Special Boat Service (SBS), with tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.

It was a bit like Orange County Choppers meets Guy Martin, but Cormack was very watchable and if you're into the internal combustion engine, this is television for you.

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