Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Wednesday, 23 July 2008 16:54 UK

Canoe fraud couple sent to jail

Photo of John and Anne Darwin published on the Move to Panama website
Anne Darwin was pictured with her husband while he was still "missing"

Back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin and his wife Anne have each been jailed for more than six years for fraudulently claiming 250,000.

John Darwin, 57, was jailed for six years and three months after earlier admitting deception by faking his own death in a canoe accident.

Anne Darwin, 56, was given six and a half years for the fraud.

The judge said the couple's two sons, who were unaware their father was still alive, were the "real victims".

The couple conned sons Mark and Anthony, friends, police and insurance companies into believing Mr Darwin drowned in the North Sea off Teesside in 2002.

He reappeared at a London police station in December last year claiming he had lost his memory.

They were undone by a photograph of the grinning couple taken in Panama four years after he disappeared.

Mark Darwin (left) and Anthony Darwin
The sons were "the real victims", the judge said

Mr Justice Wilkie, at Teesside Crown Court, said their sons, who gave evidence for the prosecution against their mother, had been left "crushed" by the deception.

He said: "Although the sums involved are not as high as some reported cases, the duration of the offending, its multi-faceted nature and, in particular, the grief inflicted over the years to those who, in truth, were the real victims, your own sons, whose lives you crushed, make this a case which merits a particularly severe sentence."

A compensation hearing to determine how the couple can pay back the 250,000 they defrauded will take place at a later date.

Anne Darwin had put forward the defence of "marital coercion" against 15 charges of money laundering and fraud, meaning her husband made her act against her will. However, the jury found her guilty.

During sentencing John Darwin looked down and his wife looked straight ahead and showed no emotion.

The Darwins came up with the plot as they faced bankruptcy.

In March 2002, prison officer John Darwin paddled out to sea near his home in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, then abandoned his boat and went into hiding.

Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood gives his reaction outside court

His wife raised the alarm after driving him in secret to Durham railway station and a huge air sea rescue operation was mounted, without success.

He apparently spent several weeks in the Lake District, then returned home, where Anne Darwin kept him hidden inside the house for about four years.

When visitors called, he used a secret door to sneak into an adjoining bedsit, also owned by the Darwins.

Growing a full beard to act as a disguise, former school teacher John Darwin used the name of a dead child John Jones to apply for a new passport - and even a library card.

Once his death was made "official", Anne Darwin claimed her husband's 25,000 life insurance policy, his 25,000 teacher's pension, his 58,000 prison service pension, 4,000 in payouts from the Department of Work and Pensions, and a 137,000 Norwich Union mortgage insurance policy.

The couple planned to start a new life together in Panama, but the plot unravelled when John Darwin walked into a London police station last December.

At first, his sons were pleased at his return and his wife, who was in Panama, professed her profound shock at his re-emergence.

But the couple's deceit became apparent to their family as a photo of them together in Panama in 2006 was published in the media.

For 51 years of his life, he was in all aspects, a law-abiding, decent man
Peter Makepeace for John Darwin

Police believe John Darwin's sudden return may have been sparked by a row.

Speaking outside Teesside Crown Court, Det Insp Andy Greenwood, of Cleveland Police, said: "We're pleased with the verdict received. Anne Darwin has been a compulsive liar.

"Every time evidence was put to her she came up with an account - she reacted to the evidence and another account was brought out.

"This is just 'half time'. Asset recovery teams will make sure that all the couple's financial benefits realised from this plot will be brought back to this country."

In mitigation for Mr Darwin, Peter Makepeace said his client had been a "good father" until his disappearance.

He said: "It would seem that he was a man who was devoted to his family, hard-working and, on the face of it, an entirely decent man.

"For 51 years of his life, he was in all aspects, a law-abiding, decent man."

Mrs Darwin's barrister David Waters QC said she returned voluntarily to the UK when her husband was arrested, which saved the British authorities "a considerable amount of expense and delay".

'Calculated fraud'

Gale Gilchrist, from Cleveland Crown Prosecution Service, who acted as junior counsel during the trial, said: "When John Darwin turned up 'from the dead' before Christmas last year it was seen at first as an amusing story for the festive season.

"But this was a callous and calculated fraud.

"The Darwins were willing to deceive family and friends and to waste considerable resources of the emergency services, all to maintain a lie that John Darwin had died and then exploit any compassion extended to them."

Det Insp Andy Greenwood added that the couple's sons were devastated.

"If they get over it, it will take some time and some assistance.

"I just hope they can go away from the court building today and move on with their life.

"They have dealt with it, under the circumstances, extremely well."

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The pair fraudulently claimed 250,000



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