Darwin sons tell court of fury over deception

The "betrayed" sons of Anne and John Darwin said today their shock at losing their father turned to anger when they discovered his death was an elaborate lie.

Mark and Anthony Darwin's surprise at their father's return after more than five years being presumed dead turned to rage that they had been deceived for so long.

They realised they had been fooled when a damning photograph of their smiling parents appeared on the internet, Teesside Crown Court heard.

The staged death was part of a complicated plan by their parents to escape a financial crisis by defrauding insurance companies of £250,000, the court heard.

Mark, 32, told the jury he knew his mother had hidden the truth when he saw the image of the couple in Panama taken four years after Mr Darwin apparently vanished in his canoe off the coast of Hartlepool within sight of their seafront home.

He said: "I couldn't believe the fact she knew he was alive all this time and I had been lied to for God knows how long."

Anthony, 29, said he thought the image was faked and had been doctored by an internet prankster.

It was only when he read a newspaper confession by his mother in which she apparently confirmed it was genuine that he realised he had been so badly duped.

Asked how he felt at that moment, Anthony scratched his head and replied: "Upset, betrayed, I don't know."

The court heard how he cut short a trip to Canada in March 2002 during which he intended to propose to his girlfriend when he was told that his father was missing.

Mark told the jury he dialled his brother's number to break the bad news but was too upset to speak and had to hand the phone to his aunt.

He travelled from his home in Basingstoke, Hampshire, to comfort his mother in the days after Mr Darwin's disappearance.

He said: "She flung her arms around me, she said 'He's gone I think. I have lost him'.

"She wouldn't stop crying for ages.

"We just stood in the drawing room doorway."

Mark, who wore a dark suit, blinked in the witness box, and recalled: "It crushed my world."

Anthony busied himself in the following weeks checking websites for news from the coastguard and missing persons organisations.

Both sons comforted their mother at the subsequent inquest which recorded an open verdict.

Mark was at a wedding in Balham, London, in November last year when he was telephoned to say his father had turned up at a central London police station.

Anthony told the jury he was angered at the suggestion it was his father, thinking it was an impostor claiming to be John Darwin.

But the sons were convinced when they saw him.

Anthony felt "surprised, amazed, [I was] still almost disbelieving."

They rang their mother, who by this time had made fraudulent claims worth £250,000 on John's life, sold the couple's properties and emigrated to Panama.

Mark told the jury: "I rambled for 10 minutes and explained my dad had turned up and I am sat next to him.

"She sounded really shocked that he had turned up after all these years."

But the sons were to realise the shock she expressed was not genuine when they saw the damning photo of their parents.

Mrs Darwin dabbed her eyes and blew her nose when Mark spoke about being deceived.

Mark agreed with David Waters QC, defending, that he had felt extreme trauma and anger towards his mother when the Panama photograph was published.

Earlier, Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, told the jury Mrs Darwin tried to cover up her involvement in the plan.

"Far from dealing here with a 'shrinking violet', we have here a determined, resolute woman who was able to lie and deceive at length - literally at length," he said.

She denies six counts of fraud and nine counts of money laundering, putting forward an unusual defence of "marital coercion" - claiming her husband forced her to go along with his plan.

Mr Robertson said Mrs Darwin was "actively engaged" in money laundering by setting up bank accounts in Jersey and in Panama.

"We concede, as regards all these complicated arrangements, John Darwin was playing a role," he said.

"The ideas may well have been his. However, from March 2007 as Anne Darwin told police, John Darwin was in Panama.

"It therefore seems that matters from the UK end were handled by Anne Darwin alone - not in the company of her husband.

"It was a totally equal criminal partnership."

The case was adjourned until tomorrow.