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.

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home