Back-from-dead canoeists's wife 'played role with aplomb'

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The wife of back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin played her role in defrauding £250,000 with "superb aplomb", a court heard today.

Anne Darwin, 56, convinced insurance companies, a coroner and, "more poignantly", her sons that he had died in a canoe accident, Teesside Crown Court heard.

She denies six counts of deception and nine of money laundering which related to her alleged activity following Mr Darwin's disappearance in March 2002 from the sea by their home in Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool.

Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "They were at risk of being made bankrupt - the shame and embarrassment of which neither of them wished to face. Out of this dire financial situation, seeds of this fraud were born.

"The initial idea may well have been John Darwin's rather than Anne's but, in the Crown's submission, it was a scheme in which Anne Darwin not only played an equal and vital role but it was a role which she played with superb aplomb."

Mr Robertson said the plan to stage Mr Darwin's death then claim insurance and pension money was simple.

"It was obviously going to require a considerable amount of guile, convincing pretence, persistence and guts on the part of Anne Darwin to see it through," the barrister said.

"Her role was a positive one. John Darwin, after supposedly disappearing, had simply to keep his head down so the falsity of his disappearance would not be rumbled by anybody.

"She had to take all the positive steps.

"But if she kept her nerve, which she coolly did, the rewards were going to be considerable, which they were - sufficient not only to discharge the debts, but to finance a potentially idyllic life abroad and together."

Mr Robertson said Mrs Darwin was always aware that her husband was alive.

She convinced various insurance companies that Mr Darwin had drowned while canoeing.

He said: "She also convinced the local coroner, the police and, most poignantly of all, her own children.

"She convinced them herself that their father was dead and that they would never see him again."

Mr Robertson said the facts of the case were largely not in dispute but Mrs Darwin's defence was an unusual one of "marital coercion".

After showing the jury a photograph of Mr and Mrs Darwin, who the jury heard were married in 1973 and have two sons.

It was taken at an estate agent's office in Panama when they were looking for property to buy with the proceeds of the fraud.

Mr Robertson said for a marital coercion to succeed, a wife must prove the offence was committed in the presence of her husband and that she was under such pressure from him that she was impelled to act against her own will.

He said the prosecution will prove that much of the work needed for the fraud to succeed was carried out by Mrs Darwin alone.

The court heard how debts were mounting in the Darwin household in the months before he staged his death.

The couple had bought around a dozen properties in the Durham area as well as two seafront homes in Seaton Carew in 2000, one of which they let out as bedsits.

These properties were bought with a £245,000 mortgage from the Yorkshire Bank.

He said: "To the outside world, it might have appeared that they therefore were relatively well-heeled, but they were, of course, heavily indebted to the bank and their financial position began to worsen considerably over the next two years."

Initially the £245,000 mortgage was on favourable terms and was interest-only for the first six months.

The Yorkshire Bank extended that period once, but refused a further extension and it turned the couple down when they requested a £20,000 loan.

With other debts totalling £64,000, the couple were told their mortgage repayments would be rising from a few hundred to more than £2,000 a month.

At the time Mr Darwin, a former teacher, was working as a prison officer, while she was a doctor's receptionist.

Mr Robertson said: "It is the Crown's case that she and her husband, John Darwin, obtained over £250,000 by means of this fraud, and by the time the fraud was uncovered she had transferred the funds to Panama in South America where she was then living.

"The funds were invested in land, property and foreign bank accounts in her name.

"You will see in due course how she and her husband, John, worked a complex web of transactions between various bank accounts making the finances all the more difficult to trace, before finally putting them beyond the jurisdiction of our English courts in that foreign land.