Canoe Man John Darwin has been forgiven by one of his sons for faking his death at sea as part of an elaborate life insurance scam. However, the other one is less sympathetic.
Millions have tuned into the new drama ‘The Thief, His Wife and the Canoe’, the ‘unbelievably true’ story of John, 71, and his wife Anne Darwin which aired on ITV.
They claimed around £500,000 in an insurance scam based on his ‘death’ in a kayak in March 2002. The most astonishing aspect of their crime was the ‘unthinkable’ deception of their sons Mark and Anthony.
The two sons believed their dad was dead for five years. After he returned from Panama to the UK in December, 2007 – telling police that he had been suffering from amnesia – the Mirror revealed the true story.
The now infamous photo of John and Anne visiting a Panama estate agent in 2006, when John was supposed to be missing, presumed dead was published.
His sons then faced the ordeal of having to give evidence against their own mother in her trial. Anne, now 69, denied six counts of fraud, claiming her husband had forced her to carry out the scam. She was found guilty, and jailed for six years and six months, while John was sentenced to six years and three months.
The series is inspired by the book written by ex Mirror man David Leigh. He tells how Mark Darwin, 37, was prepared to speak to his dad again, and how Anthony, 34, has also been reconciled with his mother.
But it is understood Anthony has refused all contact with his dad. Mark was the first to visit his mum in jail. After she was transferred to Askham open prison, near York, in 2010, Anthony and his wife Louise introduced Anne to the grandson of whose existence she had no idea.
In his book, featured in the Mirror this week, David writes: “Most people, other than her hugely supportive younger sister Christine, and her frankly bewildered elderly parents, abandoned Anne.
“She was left without a friend in the world. She became so depressed that at one stage she began contemplating the unthinkable.
“She sought help from a psychologist, which probably saved her life. Those visits gave her the courage to do what she knew she should have done many years earlier – tell John she no longer wanted to be with him.
“She has had no contact with him since before being released on parole after serving half of her sentence. The day she was finally released, she wrote to me. ‘I’m finally free!’
“The two sons she had hurt so badly had both made their peace with their ‘mam’. It wasn’t overnight forgiveness.”
In 2010, Anthony finally followed his brother’s lead and visited his mother. “Anne walked nervously down Askham Grange’s gravel drive, barely daring to believe Anthony would be there waiting. But he was,” added David.
“So too was his wife Louise. They had driven 200 miles north from their home to introduce Anne to the grandson of whose existence she had no idea.”
Anne now lives a quiet life in a pretty Yorkshire village, and dotes on her four grandchildren. John, meanwhile, has settled in Manila with his second wife Mercy, 48.
His claim that he returned to the UK in 2007 – after five years as a ‘dead man’ – to see his sons was dismissed by Tony Hutchinson, the retired Cleveland Police Det Supt who brought him to justice.
“He really didn’t give a flying fig,” he said. “If he wanted to be part of their lives as he claimed, how come he is now living in Manila?”
‘The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe’ by David Leigh, with Tony Hutchinson, is on sale now, published by Hodder.