The story of how John Darwin faked his own death gripped the world. The unlikely tale of how he pretended to drown in a canoe accident, used the money to fund a life of luxury in Panama, and then returned to Britain claiming to have amnesia had all the makings of a good book.
This, it appears, is not lost on the man himself. Today it emerged that Darwin, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to six years in prison in July, intends to publish his story and is currently writing his memoirs from his jail cell.
He has apparently already written the first 33,000 words and has managed to smuggle it out of HMP Everthorpe, in Yorkshire, where he currently resides. He has also designed a cover for the book; a crude drawing of a man paddling towards a tropical island in a red canoe. And he has titled the tome: The Canoe Man Panama & Back.
Darwin, a former prison officer, conned financial institutions out of around £250,000 after vanishing in March 2002 while paddling his canoe in the North Sea near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool. He had actually begun a new life in Panama with his wife Anne, but returned to the UK in November 2007, telling police he was a missing person with amnesia. His story fell apart when a photograph of the couple in the central American country appeared on the internet.
Jailed last year and currently awaiting the beginning of a proceeds of crime hearing in which the Crown Prosecution Sertvice will attempt to reclaim all of the money and ill-gotten gains Darwin and his wife fraudulently claimed, Darwin has apparently now come up with a way of restoring his finances - by writing a book.
According to The Sun he got the book out of prison by befriending a man named Alan Caramanica while on remand at Durham. Mr Caramanica, according to the newspaper, set up a bogus law firm upon his release.
The Prison Service failed to carry out basic checks which would have revealed that Darwin’s new “lawyer” had been freed on licence earlier this year, allowing Darwin to exploit Prison Rule 39 which prohibits guards from reading prisoners’ correspondence with their legal advisers.
So that a publisher could be found for the book, Darwin signed over the rights to his work to Mr Caramanica in return for a £10 charity donation and Mr Caramanica promised Darwin that the pair would share the profits. The £10, according to Mr Caramanica, was given to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which ran up a £100,000 bill during the futile search for Darwin seven years ago.
In his memoir Darwin, 59, revealed how, overwhelmed by mounting debts, he initially contemplated suicide but realised it would not solve his financial woes and feared the effect it would have on his wife.
“The thought of losing everything was more than I could bear,” he wrote. “Not only would I think I was a failure in the eyes of Anne - but also in the eyes of my two sons, as I would have lost the family home, lost absolutely everything that Anne and I had worked for.”
He went on to describe the “Eureka moment” when he hit upon the idea of staging his own death.
“If we couldn’t die, then my crazed brain reasoned, I could pretend to die. After all, I wouldn’t be the first man to kill himself because of financial pressures. The only difference in this case was that it would look like an accident. A suicide would be useless - the insurance company wouldn’t pay out.”
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Prisons have established processes in place for dealing with rule 39, which ensures that the confidential legal relationships between solicitors and their clients are maintained, while also ensuring security is not compromised.
“We take any allegations that this rule is being breached very seriously and will investigate them. It is wrong for convicted criminals to profit from their crimes, whether directly from the proceeds of the crime itself or indirectly through cashing in on the story of their crime.”