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 year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project