Police start to recover Darwins' fraud cash

Police began to sift through the financial assets of John and Anne Darwin today to recover the money the couple defrauded in their £250,000 canoe death scam.

The back-from-the-dead canoeist, 57, and his wife, 56, hatched their audacious plot to beat bankruptcy after running into financial difficulties.

Their "determined, sustained and sophisticated" fraud ended yesterday at Teesside Crown Court where Mr Darwin was jailed for six years and three months and his wife for six-and-a-half years.

In total, the Darwins claimed £250,820.75 in insurance payments and pension payouts over a five-and-half-year period.

The money was used to keep the couple afloat and allow them to pay off the hefty mortgage on their large marital home and portfolio of rental properties.

When all the houses were sold off, the couple laundered the money - even using their own sons Mark, 32, and Anthony, 29 - via Jersey to Panama, where the couple started a new life.

Police believe that at the time the Darwins were arrested last December, their assets were worth £500,000 - the equivalent of one million US dollars in Panama.

After Mr Darwin walked into a London police station, officers began unravelling their complicated finances in Panama.

Mrs Darwin had bought an apartment in Panama City, which was worth 56,000 US dollars (£28,000), and spent 389,789 US dollars (£198,000) on land to build a canoeing centre for tourists.

Continuing Mr Darwin's love of large cars, the couple drove around in a 45,000 US dollars (£23,000) Toyota Land Cruiser.

There were also two bank accounts in Panama - containing 319 US dollars (£160) and 220 US dollars (£110) respectively - a Yorkshire Bank account with £2,300, two HSBC bank accounts holding £60 and £550, and two HSBC bank accounts in Jersey with £1,800 US dollars (£900) and 100 US dollars (£50).

Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood, who led the inquiry into the couple, said: "Any reasonable person who finds themselves in the Darwins' position would sell their properties to realise the debt.

"Instead they hatched this plot. Mr and Mrs Darwin liked to portray themselves as well-to-do and it was an image that they found difficult to move away from.

"It would have been very easy for them to put their properties up for sale."

He said police were already starting the process of getting the money back and a worldwide order is in place freezing the couple's assets.

"We will pursue them through the Proceeds of Crime Act. All of the life they have built in Panama has been on the back of criminal activity," said Mr Greenwood.

Yesterday, the court heard that legal proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act have already begun.

Meanwhile, two insurance companies - Unat Direct and Norwich Union - have started legal proceedings against the couple for the sums they defrauded.