Canoe wife must repay £600,000 – while husband faces bill for £1

Fraudster has assets frozen and faces 30 months in jail if money is not repaid

Anne Darwin, the insurance fraudster, faces 30 months in jail if she does not repay the sum of nearly £600,000 she made from the faked death scam she carried out with her husband.

A judge yesterday told Mrs Darwin, 57, to give back £591,838.25, while her husband John, 59, has to repay a nominal £1 because he is penniless. The couple, who conned insurance companies after they staged Mr Darwin's "death" in a bogus canoeing accident, have now had their assets confiscated.

The Darwins had benefited to the sum of £679,194.62 from the fraud, Leeds Crown Court heard. However, the realisable assets totalled £591,838.25, said Jolyon Perks, prosecuting, said. The Darwins own land in Panama worth £232,000 and a £58,000 apartment in Panama City. The remaining near-£300,000 was held in bank accounts in the Central American country.

"I have provided the court this morning a schedule which sets out the total benefit and the realisation of the monies that the Crown would ask your Lordship to make a confiscation order today," Mr Perks said. "This matter is agreed by the representatives of both John and Anne Darwin."

Mr Perks said the prosecution were not making the application "to enrich the coffers of the Crown". He said: "It is an application to take away from the defendants their ill-gotten gains." Mrs Darwin, looking pale and drawn, was in court today for the hearing, but her husband, a former prison officer and teacher, was excused attendance.

The Darwins defrauded Aviva, formerly Norwich Union, of £247,478.46 when they made a claim on a mortgage insurance policy, Mr Perks said.

Fellow insurance giant AIG was conned out of £58,833.69 when the couple cashed in a life insurance policy.

They also made claims on Mr Darwin's prison service pension of £84,147.64, his teaching pension of £34,277.70 and a Department of Work and Pensions payout of £4,273.60.

Mr Perks said the couple's assets were in Mrs Darwin's name and her husband was, in effect, penniless.

"John Darwin being a person of no assets, it is not possible to make any order against him apart from a nominal amount," he said.

Mr Perks asked that the couple have 12 months to repay the money and if they fail to do so they could face an extra two-and-half-years' imprisonment.

Mrs Darwin was jailed for six-and-a-half years last year after a jury found her guilty of six counts of fraud and nine of money laundering. Mr Darwin admitting seven charges of deception and was jailed for six years and three months.

The couple, of Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool, began a new life in Panama after Mr Darwin faked his death in March 2002 by vanishing off the coast. He turned up at a UK police station in November 2007, claiming he was a missing person with amnesia. The ruse fell apart when a photo of the couple in Panama turned up on the internet.

Mr Darwin had obtained a passport in the name of a dead baby, John Jones, and lived secretly with his wife while they hatched a plot to emigrate to Panama and start a new life. Mr Darwin travelled to Panama where they bought a flat and planned to set up an ecological tourism business together.

Mrs Darwin claimed during her trial that she was forced into the scam by her husband. But a jury found her guilty on all counts. This year the couple both lost appeals against their sentences.

Detective Inspector Andy Greenwood, who led the original investigation, said he did not know whether this would be the end of the Darwin saga.

"I hope this is the end," he said, "but you can never say never with the Darwins... Anne and John Darwin have deceived their friends and family. This was a vindictive and nasty crime."