Canoeist returned to repay insurance claim, says wife

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Anne Darwin claimed yesterday that her husband reappeared after pretending to be dead for five-and-a-half years because he wanted to be reunited with his sons and pay back the £250,000 that the couple had fraudulently claimed. She denied that she had "lied at length" as a "last-ditch defence" against charges of fraud and money laundering.

During another tearful day in the witness box at Teesside Crown Court, Mrs Darwin, 56, was asked to explain the one question that is so far unanswered, ever since her husband walked into a London police station last December, said he thought he was a missing person and claimed to have amnesia. Andrew Robertson QC, for the prosecution, raised his voice as he asked why her husband had returned from Panama: "It is your opportunity now Mrs Darwin," he shouted: "Everybody wants to know, what's the real reason John Darwin – after five-and-a-half years – came back to the UK? What is the truth?"

She replied: "To be reunited with Mark and Anthony and pay back the money."

Earlier, she had denied deceiving her sons solely in pursuit of wealth. Mr Robertson had suggested there was only one reason she had gone along with her husband's plan: that she "wanted the money".

She answered: "All I wanted to do was to keep the family together. I didn't want the money. The money wasn't important to me. Neither was the house."

"All you wanted was to keep the family together?" asked Mr Robertson. "What sort of hypocrisy is that? You've torn those boys to shreds haven't you?"

Mrs Darwin was asked why, as a mother, she didn't feel compelled to come clean to her sons and explain that their father was not really dead and that his "death" in a supposed canoeing accident at sea was an elaborate scheme; one that had been hatched in order to claim insurance money and wipe their considerable debts.

"Because I felt trapped," she said. Later, she admitted she hadn't enjoyed lying to her sons. "But you did it, didn't you?" said Mr Robertson. "I had no choice," she answered, going on to explain that her husband was "overbearing" and would make her do things she didn't want to do.

Mr Robertson asked: "If John had said to you to, 'Anne, I want you to go and jump off a cliff', you would, because John told you to, even if you didn't want to because he had overborne your will?"

She replied: "I think that's a very unfair comparison. You were not there to see how I lived."

Mr Robertson asked Mrs Darwin whether phone conversations she had with her husband from prison, marking their wedding anniversary on 22 December last year, had made her change her story.

The jury has been told that, during the period between police interviews in December last year and January this year, she changed her story, claiming she had known all along John was alive and he had forced her to take part in the insurance scam.

Mr Robertson said: "It was decided between the two of you that he would take the major blame and you would see if you could get out of this mess?" Mrs Darwin replied: "No."

The prosecutor continued: "In this trial, we have seen this last-ditch attempt to escape your own actions and consequences for which you are fully responsible, haven't you?" Mrs Darwin replied: "That's your opinion."

Mr Robertson accused Mrs Darwin of changing her story, saying her husband was by her side whenever the fraudulent claims were made, to make her defence of marital coercion more likely to succeed. He said: "It is now to your advantage to lie about him being present because it gives you your last-ditch hope of getting away with all this. That's what it comes to, doesn't it?" "No," she replied.

He countered: "That's what this trial is all about, you pushing everything to the wire. When that is proved to be a lie, change tack. When that is proved to be a lie, change tack again."

Mrs Darwin denies 15 counts of fraud and money laundering. The trial continues.