'Missing' canoeist admits deception

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The Independent Online

Back-from-the-dead canoeist John Darwin today admitted deception.

But his wife Anne denied all charges linked to the case and will stand trial later this year.

Darwin, 57, and his 55-year-old wife were accused of a string of fraud charges totalling nearly £250,000.

The couple made their first crown court appearance in Leeds today for a plea and directions hearing at which Mr Darwin pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining cash by deception and a passport offence.

He denied nine other charges of using criminal property and the court was told he will not face trial for these charges, which will be left to lie on file.

But Mrs Darwin denied six deception charges and nine of using criminal property.

She will now face trial at Teesside Crown Court on July 14, the court heard.

Darwin disappeared after taking his canoe into the sea opposite his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, in March 2002.

A huge air-sea search failed to find any trace of his body and he was pronounced dead by police and a coroner the following year.

It has since been alleged that the former teacher and prison officer was living next door to his wife at her seaside home in Seaton Carew for much of the time he was thought to have been dead.

The mystery of his disappearance started to unravel when Darwin walked into a London police station on 1 December last year and announced: "I think I'm a missing person."

Days later, a photograph of Darwin and his wife, a former doctor's receptionist, emerged, which appeared to show them in Panama, Central America, with a property agent.

The picture is said to have been taken in July 2006 - more than three years after Hartlepool Coroner Malcolm Donnelly recorded an open verdict on Darwin's apparent death.

Detectives said the couple's two sons, Mark and Anthony Darwin, were never made aware that their father was still alive and were innocent "victims" of the charade.

As the couple were brought into the dock and stood facing the judge, Darwin turned to his wife and squeezed her hand.

Mrs Darwin stared straight forward and did not appear to respond.

The couple stood next to each other for the 30-minute hearing flanked by three security guards.

Darwin, who was wearing a black leather jacket over a blue open-neck shirt and jeans, entered his pleas, occasionally pausing to consult a piece of paper.

His wife, who was wearing a white cream cardigan over a white shirt with dark trousers, confidently said "not guilty" to each of the charges.

She showed no emotion and started straight ahead throughout the hearing.

The courtroom was packed with reporters spilling over into the area normally reserved for the jury.

Peter Makepeace, representing Darwin, asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared and said his client had been seen by a psychiatrist but there were no mental health issues relevant to the case.

But Mr Makepeace said: "Mr Darwin has been in custody.

"It has been an extremely difficult time for him. There have been self-harming issues."

Mr Makepeace added: "He accepts entirely that a lengthy custodial sentence is inevitable."

The judge agreed for the report to be prepared but he told Darwin he will have to be held in custody until the conclusion of his wife's trial.

The court heard the trial will take place at Teesside Crown Court from 14 July and will probably last about five days.