Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 12:43 UK

The 'torture' of canoe man's sons

By James Lynn
BBC News, Newcastle

Mark (right) and Anthony Darwin
Anthony and Mark Darwin feel 'betrayed' by their parents

When canoeist John Darwin vanished more than six years ago his sons were "tortured" by his supposed death.

His wife Anne claimed the whole family's lives were in limbo.

"People die, have a funeral, they have a headstone," she said at the time. "There is something to mark the fact they existed on this earth.

"But without a body, I don't know how we can mark John's life."

Younger son Anthony, 29, on holiday in Canada, was preparing to propose to his fiancee when his 51-year-old father disappeared in the sea off Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool.

He broke short the trip and rushed home to find his mother "crying and shaking".

They were tortured. And yes, it was hard to keep up the front. I so wanted to tell them, but I was in too deep.
Anne Darwin on her sons

Later, he would search the internet for information about people lost at sea.

He said: "I knew the police would be doing these things but it was a way of me doing something."

Six months after her husband's "death", Anne Darwin launched a renewed appeal, saying: "I have no reason to think he would have left and stage-managed this.

"All I want is to bury his body."

In truth, she was fully aware of her husband's whereabouts - he was hiding in the couple's marital home, while she cashed in 250,000 of life insurance and pension funds.

Anthony and his brother Mark, 32, were to become the biggest victims of their parents' deception.

Both sons agreed their family life and childhoods had been normal and happy.

John Darwin
A bearded John Darwin travelled abroad under the name of John Jones

During his mother's trial, Mark said their parents never argued in front of them.

"I would say they were equal partners, there was never one that took more of a role than the other."

Their father was fond of money-spinning schemes, he said - making garden gnomes, computer games, breeding snails and trading stocks and shares.

Anthony Darwin recollects his parents amassing a property portfolio of about a dozen homes across the Durham area.

"I remember hearing that he was buying a property on his credit card. I believe at the time the properties were rather cheap."

But it was partly the burden of credit repayments which led John Darwin to fake his own death on 21 March 2002.

Following a failed search and rescue operation, the shattered remains of his red boat washed up on a local beach.

"I was disbelieving initially he had been out in the canoe, that this had happened, and obviously sad and upset at the thought that he had died," said Anthony in court.

Mark spoke of how his father's disappearance had "crushed his world".

During the following years, their mother sold off the property portfolio and put the titles of the family home and the bedsits next door in her elder son's name for "inheritance tax" reasons.

The former home of John Darwin in Seaton Carew
John Darwin hid from visitors, including his sons, using a hidden door

But when she moved abroad she took the 455,000 proceeds.

Mark said he was "quite shocked" at his mother's plans to move to Panama, "because I didn't think she would emigrate too far away from her parents".

In fact, Anne Darwin had joined her husband, now living under the assumed name of "John Jones" in the Central American country.

What happened next left their sons feeling "surprised, amazed, still almost disbelieving".

On 1 December last year, Mark Darwin was at a wedding in south London, when he was telephoned by the police to say his father had re-appeared, claiming to be suffering from amnesia.

After rushing to the London police station to meet him, Mark called his mother in Panama and "rambled for 10 minutes and explained my dad had turned up and I am sat next to him.

"She sounded really shocked that he had turned up after all these years."

Initially elated by their father's re-appearance, they slipped "to the depths of despair" when a now-infamous photograph emerged, showing John and Anne Darwin together in Panama.

Their anguish was soon compounded by their mother's apparent "confession" in a newspaper.

Anne Darwin and a police officer
Mrs Darwin helped to hide her husband from their two sons

Months later, Mrs Darwin's trial at Teesside Crown Court became the venue for an unhappy reunion between mother and sons.

Not a glance was exchanged as Mark and Anthony gave evidence from the witness box.

In a dark suit and blue tie, Mark spoke quickly when he talked about his mother lying to him for "God knows how long" about his father's death.

Both men admitted they felt "upset and betrayed".

Their mother blew her nose and dabbed her eyes when Mark recalled his father's reappearance and subsequent arrest last year.

But for much of the hearing she looked straight ahead through the glass, with a fixed expression.

Before Anne Darwin's return to the UK, she was quoted begging her sons to forgive her, saying: "What kind of a mother am I?"

"They were tortured," she said. "And yes, it was hard to keep up the front. I so wanted to tell them, but I was in too deep.

"How could I possibly explain to them that I'd known their father was alive?"


John Darwin used a hidden door to sneak into the adjoining house

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific