Canoe fake death wife Anne Darwin: I'll feel guilt until I die

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“That guilt will remain with me for the rest of my life” - Anne Darwin lied to her sons that their father had died

A woman who helped her husband fake his own death has said she will feel guilt "for the rest of my life" for lying about it to her two sons.

Anne Darwin hid John Darwin in their Teesside home for several years, after he pretended to go missing on a canoe trip in the North Sea in 2002.

Both went to prison after their story unravelled, and she was shunned for several months by her family.

Mrs Darwin said she felt "blessed" that both sons had since forgiven her.

She told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme she was now "happy", after going through what she described as a "living nightmare".

Mrs Darwin was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail in 2008 for fraud and money-laundering, after she conspired with her husband to fake his disappearance in a canoe near their home in Seaton Carew.

'Not an act'

She falsely claimed £250,000 in insurance and other payments and kept up the pretence by lying to her two sons, Mark and Anthony, telling them their father had died.

"I was leading two lives," Mrs Darwin told Victoria Derbyshire. "I was going through the emotions of living the life of a widow and, I suppose, I was performing that life in a way that I thought people would expect me to under the circumstances.

"It certainly wasn't an easy thing to do, but the emotions that people saw weren't an act. They were genuine emotions, but the emotions were for different reasons, because of how I was feeling about what I was putting the boys through.

"And seeing their pain was unbearable. But people felt the emotions they saw were ones of my own grief. But it wasn't that way at all. It was just a living nightmare."

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A photograph of John and Anne Darwin in Panama undermined their story

Asked about how it had felt to lie to her sons that their father was missing, presumed dead, she said: "Fortunately I didn't actually have to do that in person, but nonetheless that guilt will remain with me for the rest of my life."

Mr Darwin hid at the family home in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, until the couple - with Mr Darwin using a false identity - moved to Panama in 2007.

He returned to the UK that year and walked into a police station, claiming he had suffered amnesia. Mrs Darwin pretended to be shocked at his return.

But a photograph of the couple with an estate agent in Panama surfaced later and they were arrested.

Mr Darwin admitted fraud, but Mrs Darwin pleaded not guilty, on the grounds of marital coercion. She was convicted on all counts and both husband and wife were jailed, Mrs Darwin's sentence being a few months longer than Mr Darwin's.


While in Low Newton prison, County Durham, Mrs Darwin wrote to her sons to apologise. Initially there was no response but, after a few months, Mark sent a letter back.

She said: "It offered me hope that I hadn't lost them forever, which by this point I felt I had."

A few months later Mark wrote again and asked if he could see his mother in prison. "I was just overjoyed at the thought," she said, "but dreading it at the same time, because this was the first time he was going to ask me what had happened.

"Eventually that day came and I was waiting for the visit and it was quite a cold greeting, a difficult visit, but when it came to an end there was some affection. I was greatly relieved and hopeful."

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Anthony and Mark Darwin were lied to for several years about their father's disappearance

Mrs Darwin, who has written a book called Out of My Depth about her experiences, gradually repaired her relationship with Mark, and her younger son, Anthony, also came to see her.

"The first meeting with him and his wife in prison was when I found out I had my first grandchild," Mrs Darwin said. "So, again, that was a very emotional visit. I was overwhelmed.

"I'm very blessed that they've given me an opportunity to be in their lives again and I now have four grandchildren. And they mean the world to me."

The reconciliation came despite Mrs Darwin keeping up the story that she thought her husband had genuinely been missing, even after his return to the UK. Mark and Anthony gave evidence against their mother at her trial.

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Anne Darwin went to prison in 2008, serving almost three years

While in prison, Mrs Darwin decided to separate from her husband, after seeing a psychologist.

Although he was "controlling", she said, she could not blame her ex-husband "100%" for her decision to go along with his plan in the first place.

Mrs Darwin now works for the RSPCA and her ex-husband lives in the Philippines.

"I am happy. I'm comfortable in my own skin," she said of her life today. "I have no feelings towards [Mr Darwin] whatsoever. Completely zero. No emotion whatsoever."

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.