Canoe conman John Darwin freed from jail

John Darwin, the canoeist who became famous after faking his own death, has been released from jail and is living a few miles from his former home.

Days after he was released from Moorland open prison, his former neighbours were amazed to see the notorious fraudster strolling along the same beach where he had staged his death.

"He's been up and down the beach already, walking a dog. It was early morning. He must be staying nearby," said the owner of the Ocean View guest house in Seaton Carew.

Darwin vanished in March 2002 after paddling out to sea in his home-made canoe. His wife, Anne, a former doctor's receptionist, played the grieving widow – but it later transpired that the pair had concocted the elaborate hoax to claim £250,000 in insurance and pension funds.

It was not until Darwin returned to Britain five years later claiming amnesia and a photograph of the happy couple living in Panama emerged that the fraud began to unravel and they were jailed.

The 60-year-old walked free from the prison in South Yorkshire this week after serving less than half his sentence and was believed to be staying in Easington, County Durham, 13 miles from Seaton Carew, where he disappeared in 2002. "He is living with a family friend," a source said. "Where he is staying has been pre-arranged."

Darwin's aunt, Margaret Burns, said yesterday: "I hope he's not staying with a friend. He had only one as far as I knew and that poor soul had to tell people he'd died after being washed out to sea. He should keep himself to himself and not ruin any other people's lives."

Speaking from her retirement bungalow in Blackhall Colliery, she added: "Everybody's been asking me what I expect to say to John when I see him walk up my drive – but I have not heard from him nor seen him for 40 years so I don't expect that day to come any time soon. I'd probably tell him he's missed some good jokes at his expense while he's been away."

The former prison officer was sentenced to six years and three months in prison in July 2008, after admitting seven charges of obtaining money by deception and a passport offence. His wife, who is due to be released in two months, was sentenced to six-and-a-half years after being convicted of 15 counts of fraud.

The couple, who had a property portfolio of 12 homes but were struggling to make mortgage repayments, hatched the plan to fake his death and deceive not only the police, a coroner and financial institutions, but even their sons Mark and Anthony.

At one point Darwin lived secretly in a bedsit next to the family home, using the assumed identity of John Jones he had taken from a local child who died in infancy. In October 2007, Mrs Darwin settled her affairs in the UK, having sold off the family's properties, and joined her husband in Panama. Before long, Darwin flew back to the UK and handed himself in at a central London police station, claiming he was suffering from amnesia. His wife pretended to be shocked at his return from the dead.

Her story collapsed when a photograph was found on the internet showing the smiling couple in the office of a Panama estate agent. Her defence of "marital coercion" was later undermined when the prosecution produced loving emails the couple had exchanged.

Cleveland Police said they were keen to ensure that Darwin does not cash in on his infamy, as he is said to be eager to publish his memoirs. A spokeswoman for the force said if that were to be the case, his assets could be reassessed and seized.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants