In 2002, John Darwin, who, with his wife Anne, owned a portfolio of properties in the North-east, went canoeing off the coast and disappeared. No body was found; he was presumed drowned, and his wife collected insurance and pension payouts worth about £250,000. Then, last December, Mr Darwin turned up at a London police station. It emerged that Mrs Darwin had known of his faked death all along.
Anne Darwin goes on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with 15 counts of money-laundering and deception. Andrew Robertson QC, prosecuting, said that after her husband's "death", Mrs Darwin put on a "great act", completely fooling a police liaison officer. Mrs Darwin's defence is "marital coercion". Mr Robertson said this defence requires that she prove her husband was present each time an offence was committed. He also said the deceptions were motivated by the couple's debts, totalling £309,000.
The Darwins' sons told the court they felt "betrayed" by a mother who kept up the pretence of her husband's death. Mark, 32, 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." Anthony, 29, said he felt "disbelief and anger" when his father reappeared. Mr Robertson said: "The brothers contacted their mother and on receipt of this news that her husband was still alive, she pretended to be overcome with emotion... It is the Crown's submission that far from dealing with a shrinking violet, we have here a determined, resolute woman who was able to lie and deceive at length."
Within weeks of Mr Darwin's disappearance, the court heard, he rang his wife, crying and pleading to come home. Finally, she relented, and he returned to live in a house they owned next to their home. Mrs Darwin said she suggested they solve their problems by bankruptcy, but her husband, whom she described as "very manipulative", refused. Later, with the money obtained by insurance claims, he set up home in Panama, sending her emails urging her to join him, which she did.
Mrs Darwin said her husband was domineering, had had an affair, and often joked that "the only time I take her out is to vote". He was engrossed in an online role-playing game and later flew out to the US to see a woman he'd met via this game. She said she could not stop him "because what John wanted, John got". Mr Darwin returned, having lost £30,000. Mrs Darwin said he alone handled their money and kept her ignorant of their debts. As these mounted, she suggested selling some of their rental properties, but he said this was not possible because their mortgage meant they "would have to sell all or nothing". It was around then that her husband said he was probably worth more dead than alive.
Still on the witness stand, Mrs Darwin said that she thought the pretence of her husband's "death" would last only a few months. Asked if faking a death to claim insurance money was fraud, she replied: "I didn't understand it to be fraud at the time." The trial continues tomorrow.