John Darwin, the canoeist who came back from the dead, was charged with fraud last night. Mr Darwin, 57, will appear at court tomorrow accused of making an untrue statement to get a passport and obtaining a money transfer by deception in relation to a life insurance policy.
Detective Sergeant Iain Henderson of Cleveland Police said Mr Darwin will remain in police custody. "Inquiries are still on going and, as legal procedures are now active, we cannot give any further information," he said. Detectives also urged Mr Darwin's wife Anne to contact police at the earliest opportunity. They admitted they did not know when she was returning to the UK.
Speaking outside Kirkleatham police station in Redcar, Mr Henderson said of Mr Darwin: "He is fit and well at the moment." He said he could not say at the moment if there would be more charges.
When asked if he had any message for Anne Darwin, he replied: "We would ask Mrs Darwin if she is watching this to make contact with the police and to approach us at the earliest opportunity so we can speak to her."
He said that if Mrs Darwin does not make contact, police will be making inquiries to trace her, but it has not been decided if that would involve sending officers abroad.
Police said that an international appeal had resulted in calls from all over the UK and other parts of the world. "There have been a lot of people in touch with the inquiry, and we are pursuing these calls and contacts," he said.
Mr Darwin was charged as it emerged that there are significant differences in the accounts given by the former prison officer and his wife. Mrs Darwin, who is believed to be in Miami, had told journalists that her husband plotted his disappearing act at the start of 2002 because of increasingly crippling financial debts but claimed she was unaware he was actually going to carry it out and genuinely believed he was dead after his canoe was found washed up in the North Sea, weeks after he vanished on 21 March 2002. "John said there was only one way out of the situation, and that was to fake his death," she said. "I pleaded with him not to do it. I said it was a wrong thing to do. I honestly didn't know what he'd planned or for when."
Crucially, the former doctor's receptionist, who previously said that she claimed her husband's life insurance "in good faith", yesterday admitted that she knew her husband was alive and well when she cashed in a life insurance policy for 25,000 and had their 130,000 mortgage paid off by another life policy.
She said she claimed the life insurance after he had returned "an absolute mess" in February 2003.
Mrs Darwin claimed that he had actually been living with her at their home in Hartlepool for most of the time he was "missing": "I suppose it became a way of life," she said. "It was very difficult, though, and I was always terrified that we would be found out. I was always on eggshells when friends and family came to stay in case someone wandered into John's room and saw him."
She said that the couple started thinking about leaving the country back in 2004 before settling on Panama last year, to make what Mrs Darwin call "a fresh start... where John would have more freedom".
But her account was contradicted by her husband. Police sources said that Mr Darwin had given officers a prepared statement when his interview started and chose not to answer any direct questions. According to his statement, Mr Darwin could remember taking his canoe out to sea, "coming to" months later and making his way back to his home in Seaton Carew. At home, he discovered his wife had cashed in his life insurance policy, which he said the couple could not afford to pay back, so they came up with a plan for him to disappear again.
In October she returned from Panama, briefly, to sell the family house for 295,000. All was well until last weekend, when her husband walked into a police station and announced that he thought he was a "missing person", saying he had amnesia and could remember nothing of the past five years. His wife has denied rumours that their relationship had turned sour and claimed yesterday: "He had had enough of being dead. John desperately wanted contact with the boys again."
Police were monitoring airports last night for any sign of Mrs Darwin, whom they want to speak to now as a matter of urgency.
She has confessed that she is "terrified" at the prospect of joining her husband in prison. "I feel I have been living a kind of prison sentence for the last five years, but that's been my own private sentence and the public one will now follow," she said.
Meanwhile, the couple's two sons, Anthony, an insurance broker, and Mark, an international property consultant, were in contact with the police. Detectives said it could not be ruled out that they might be witnesses in any prosecution.
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