A husband and a wife who faked his death in a canoeing accident so they could claim life insurance payments were sentenced to jail terms totaling more than 12 years by a British court on Wednesday.
John and Anne Darwin were sent to prison over a scam which fooled even their two sons and only came to light five years after the shattered remains of John Darwin’s canoe were found washed up on the northeast coast of England.
He was sentenced to six years and three months in prison, while she was jailed for six and a half years.
The court handed down the sentences after Anne Darwin was found guilty of fraud and money laundering following a seven-day trial at Teesside Crown Court, northeast England. Her husband had already admitted guilt.
Prosecutors in her trial said she helped him disappear to escape mounting property debts and illegally claim life insurance to the tune of £250,000 (US$510,000). She claimed he coerced her into doing it.
Judge Alan Wilkie called John Darwin the “driving force behind this deceit,” but he added: “You, Anne Darwin, perhaps initially unconvinced, played an instrumental ... role,” also telling her she “contributed to its success and played your part efficiently.”
“In my judgment, you operated as a team, each contributing to the joint venture,” the judge said.
John Darwin, 57, admitted seven charges of deception and one charge of making false statements to procure a passport in March.
The plot involved him paddling out to sea near the couple’s home in Seaton Carew, northeast England, in his canoe in March 2002 and abandoning it further up the coast.
His 56-year-old wife later picked him up from the beach, helped him to flee inland and told emergency services he was lost at sea.
After some time living away, John Darwin moved back to the family home and lived in secret in a studio apartment, posing as a handyman if visitors called, and listening to his wife’s telephone conversations with their sons on speakerphone.
He later secured a passport under a false name and moved to Panama, where he was joined by his wife last October. They had bought a flat and land there which they hoped to transform into a canoeing center.
But in December, he flew back to Britain and handed himself in to police, claiming amnesia and telling officers: “I think I’m a missing person.”
After he went to police, Anne Darwin remained in Panama, where she was tracked down by a British journalist and pretended to be shocked by her husband’s “reappearance.”
But her story was revealed to be a lie when a photograph surfaced showing the couple posing at a Panama real estate agent in 2006.
Anne Darwin’s trial heard how she had tricked friends and family, including sons Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29, for more than five years into believing her husband was dead.
Mark Darwin told the court during the trial: “I couldn’t believe the fact that she knew he was alive all this time and I had been lied to for God knows how long.”
He also spoke of how his mother had wept as she told him of his father’s disappearance.
“She flung her arms around me. She said: ‘He’s gone, I think. I have lost him,’” he said. “She wouldn’t stop crying for ages.”