Canoe death fraudster must repay £591,000

Fraudster Anne Darwin faces 30 months in jail if she does not repay the sum of nearly £600,000 she made from the faked death scam she carried out with her husband, a judge ruled today.

Mrs Darwin, 57, was told to give back £591,838.25, while her husband John, 59, has to pay a nominal £1 because he is penniless.

The married couple, who conned insurance companies after they staged Mr Darwin's death in a bogus canoeing accident, have now had their assets confiscated.

Leeds Crown Court heard the Darwins had benefited to the sum of £679,194.62 from the fraud.

However, the realisable assets totalled £591,838.25, prosecutor Jolyon Perks said.

The Darwins own land in Panama worth £232,000, and a £58,000 apartment in Panama City.

The remaining near £300,000 was held in bank accounts in the Central American country.

"I have provided the court this morning a schedule which sets out the total benefit and the realisation of the monies that the Crown would ask your Lordship to make a confiscation order today," Mr Perks said.

"This matter is agreed by the representatives of both John and Anne Darwin."

Mr Perks said the prosecution were not making the application "to enrich the coffers of the Crown".

"It is an application to take away from the defendants their ill-gotten gains," he said.

Looking pale and drawn, bespectacled Mrs Darwin was in court today for the hearing but her husband, a former prison officer and teacher, was excused attendance.

She had tied her long grey hair back with a butterfly clip and she wore a beige zip-up cardigan, pink t-shirt, black trousers, black shoes and carried a red coat.

Mr Perks explained the Crown sought an order for Mrs Darwin to repay £429,001.62 to the victims of the couple's deception and a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act for the remaining £162,837.16.

The Darwins defrauded Aviva, which used to be known as Norwich Union, of £247,478.46 when they made a claim on a mortgage insurance policy, Mr Perks said.

Fellow insurance giant AIG was conned out of £58,833.69 when the couple cashed in a life insurance policy.

They also made claims on Mr Darwin's prison service pension of £84,147.64, his teaching pension of £34,277.70 and a Department of Work and Pensions payout of £4,273.60.

Mr Perks said the couple's assets were in Mrs Darwin's name and her husband was, in effect, penniless.

"John Darwin being a person of no assets, it is not possible to make any order against him apart from a nominal amount," he said.

Mr Perks asked that the couple have 12 months to repay the money and if they fail to do so they could face an extra two-and-half-years imprisonment.

Mrs Darwin was jailed for six-and-a-half years last year after a jury found her guilty of six counts of fraud and nine of money laundering.

Mr Darwin was jailed for six years and three months after admitting seven charges of deception.

The crooked couple, of The Cliff, Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, embarked on a new life in Panama after Mr Darwin faked his death in March 2002 by vanishing off the coast.

He turned up at a UK police station in November 2007 claiming he was a missing person with amnesia.

But the pair's ruse was blown apart when a photo of the couple in Panama turned up on the internet.

Mr Darwin had obtained a passport in the name of a dead baby, John Jones, and lived secretly with his wife while they hatched a plot to emigrate to Panama and start a new life.

Mr Darwin travelled to Panama where they bought a flat and planned to set up an ecology tourism business together.

But just weeks after his wife sold off their UK properties and joined him in Panama in late 2007, he walked into a police station in London and said he had amnesia.

The former doctors' receptionist claimed during her trial that she was forced into the scam by her husband.

But a jury did not believe her and found her guilty on all counts. Earlier this year the couple both lost appeals against their jail sentences.

Speaking after the case, Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood, who led the original investigation, said he did not know whether this would be the end of the Darwin saga.

"The way I feel at this moment in time, you can never say never with the Darwins and I hope this is the end," he said.

"But with previous incidents that have come to light, there may be something round the corner.

"The money will be returned and they will not make any money out of this. However, I would not predict what happens in the future.

"The story far outweighs the crime. However, as events have unfolded we have realised how Anne and John Darwin have deceived their friends and family.

"I have always thought this was a vindictive and nasty crime.

"I do not think I will ever investigate something as unusual as this in my time left in the force."