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Murray Frederick Farquhar (1918–1993)

Former NSW Chief Magistrate Murray Farquhar died of a heart attack at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney on Friday night, the hospital announced yesterday.

Mr Farquhar, who was 75, had observed the workings of the NSW legal system as a magistrate, a defendant and a prisoner.

His colourful career was chequered with controversy and he drew criticism for his associations with leading sporting identities and his avid interest in gambling.

He had a long fall from grace in 1985 when he was jailed for four years after a District Court jury found him guilty of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

With remissions, he served only 10 months and on his release said he had been treated "very well indeed" by the warders and "made some friendships there with chaps who would surprise you".

His death cut short his trial in an alleged false passport scam, which began five weeks ago and was expected to last between six and eight weeks.

He had tried to have the trial adjourned because of angina and diabetes and attended court every day with his left arm in a sling.

The conspiracy charge against Mr Farquhar related to claims that he had been part of a plot to remove 500 tonnes of gold from the Philippines under the cover of a coup to overthrow the then President, Corazon Aquino.

The Crown had told the District Court jury it might find the plan "somewhat of a fantastic proposition" or a "dream of Dad's Army".

Two-and-a-half years earlier, Mr Farquhar had faced another rather bizarre trial where a jury acquitted him of possessing five paintings knowing they were stolen.

They were among $1.4 million worth of paintings, oriental china plates and vases, and jewellery stolen from millionaire industrialist Sam Smorgon in 1988. The jury accepted Mr Farquhar's submission that he had been the victim of a confidence trick in buying the paintings.

The Crown had submitted that Mr Farquhar was "an extremely astute, worldly and intelligent man who has still got all his marbles" — an experienced criminal lawyer and the last person any confidence man would regard as an easy mark.

Mr Farquhar spent his early years in Broken Hill in far western NSW.

He joined the Petty Sessions branch of the Justice Department in 1936 and left his duties there four years later to join the Australian Infantry forces as a private in the 2-48 infantry battalion.

He took part in campaigns in the Middle East, Borneo and New Guinea, emerging from World War II with a fine record of active military service.

Some years after his return, he was appointed to the Bench as a magistrate and in 1961 became chairman of the bench of stipendiary magistrates.

His keen interest in horse-racing eventually led to him becoming involved with racing identity George Freeman.

In the 1983 Street Royal Commission, Chief Justice Laurence Street found the Freeman connection had tarnished Mr Farquhar's credibility and showed that Mr Farquhar was "indeed obligated to Mr Freeman, vulnerable at his hands".

Sir Laurence described Mr Farquhar as being of a gregarious, bustling disposition, with a general approach of assured self-confidence in his dealings with his fellow magistrates.

Such a disposition often included insensitivity about others' feelings.

In 1985, a jury found that in 1977 Mr Farquhar had attempted to influence Magistrate Kevin Jones not to commit former rugby league chief Kevin Humphreys for trial on a charge of misappropriating more than $50,000 from a football leagues club.

The magistrate said Mr Farquhar told him "the Premier's contacted me, he wants Humphreys discharged".

The Street Royal Commission into the affair cleared then Premier Neville Wran of attempting to influence the outcome of the case.

The judge who sentenced Mr Farquhar to jail had described the offence as "outrageous" in any sense of the word, saying the action had "struck right at the core of our system of justice".

On the recommendation of Sir Laurence, Mr Humphreys was tried and later convicted of misappropriating more than $50,000 from the Balmain Leagues Club. He was fined $4000.

In another controversy, Mr Farquhar and solicitor Morgan Ryan were named in relation to a case in 1987 involving Sydney man Timothy Milner and American citizen Raymond Cessna, who faced charges involving Indian hemp estimated to be worth $1.5 million.

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'Farquhar, Murray Frederick (1918–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

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