Canoeist's wife arrested on return to Britain

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The Independent Online

Just nine days after he seemingly came back from the dead, the former prison officer John Darwin is due in court today to face charges of deception.

His appearance before magistrates comes just 24 hours after his wife Anne, 55, flew back into the country to face the music and was also arrested on suspicion of fraud. Last night Mrs Darwin, who initially declared herself utterly "amazed" that her husband was still alive, was in police custody.

Today's court hearing comes after more than a week of twists and turns in the case of a man who had seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth until he suddenly turned up at a London police station the Saturday before last and declared: "I think I am a missing person."

Until then many friends and family believed he had met with a terrible accident when he took his kayak out near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, on 21 March 2002 and never returned. An inquest was held in Hartlepool 13 months later and the coroner, Malcolm Donnelly, declared Mr Darwin dead and recorded an open verdict.

When he re-emerged the family including his wife who had taken the insurance money, sold the family home and moved to Panama said they were shocked and thrilled but that he had no memory of anything since two years before his disappearance.

However, everything changed dramatically with the emergence of a photograph from a Panamanian website which showed a beaming Mr Darwin, 57, looking fit and well next to his "widow" Anne in July last year. She broke down and conceded the picture was genuine. A few hours later, on Tuesday, he was arrested at his son Anthony's house in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

On Saturday night, Cleveland Police charged Mr Darwin with making an untrue statement to procure a passport and obtaining a money transfer by deception in relation to a life insurance policy. Detective Sergeant Iain Henderson, of Cleveland Police, said he would appear before Hartlepool magistrates' court today when an application would be made to remand him in custody. Det Sgt Henderson had urged Mr Darwin's wife to contact police and warned that, if she did not do so, they would be tracking her down.

Yesterday at 9am, Mrs Darwin, who declared from the start that she did not want to be a fugitive, flew into Manchester airport on a Delta flight from Atlanta. Armed officers boarded the plane, she was arrested and held for three hours before being taken to Hartlepool police station. Last night Mrs Darwin was undergoing a medical examination.

Yesterday it remained unclear whether the investigation would be extended to look at other members of the Darwin family.

Anne and John Darwin's sons, Anthony, 29, and his brother Mark, 31, immediately disowned their parents, declaring they were victims of a scam while their mother backed up claims that they knew nothing.

"How could our mam continue to let us believe our dad had died when he was very much alive?" they said.

Many family members have voiced their feelings of betrayal at the apparent turn of events. Mr Darwin's father Ronald, 91, said yesterday he kept hoping that his son would call, grabbing the phone in anticipation every time it rang. But, he explained, he had received a short message, written from the cell. It simply read: "Dear Dad. Just to let you know, please don't worry."

Yesterday John Darwin's aunt Margaret Burns, 80, summed up the feelings of many, saying: "It's beyond satire. You couldn't make it up. It never occurred to me it would get this big."