During a day of tearful admissions by Anne Darwin yesterday, it was the revelation that she no longer loved her husband and had even considered killing herself at the height of the five-year scam that sent the biggest frisson through the courtroom .
Mrs Darwin, 56, told Teesside Crown Court that she wished her husband had actually died, and recounted how she almost took her own life. She said: "I ran out of the house and I crossed the road to the sea and I sat on the beach looking at the sea. I wished that John had drowned at sea. I considered walking into the sea. I got so desperate but I couldn't do it because of the effect it would have on the rest of the family, particularly Mark and Anthony, and I didn't have the courage so I calmed myself down and went back."
At one point she was asked if she still loved her husband, to which she replied: "At this moment in time, no."
Mrs Darwin, who was wearing a sandy-coloured jacket, a pale blue top, black shoes and a gold signet ring on her right hand, was repeatedly asked to speak louder so the jury could hear her.
At one point David Waters QC, for the defence, asked her to shout her answers at him. She replied, in a quiet, flat voice: "I couldn't shout to save my life." Her demeanour was in stark contrast to the apparent callousness the prosecution claimed she displayed in playing the role of the grieving widow after John Darwin's disappearance.
Pressed on that yesterday, Mrs Darwin admitted: "I had to make it look realistic and I was upset. I wanted everyone to think it was real."
Mrs Darwin said her husband had first spoken of faking his own death in early 2002. "He said he was probably worth more dead than alive. I thought it was just a throwaway comment. I didn't take him seriously."
She told the jury she had pleaded with him not to go through with it and had begged him to come clean during his time in hiding. She said: "His answer was the same: we had started it so we had to carry on."