Canoeist turns up after vanishing five years ago

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The Independent Online

A man who vanished and was presumed to have drowned while canoeing in the North Sea more than five years ago has walked into a London police station.

John Darwin, a married father of two children, was last seen entering the sea in his kayak in the Tees Bay area on the morning of 21 March, 2002. He was not reported missing until that evening, when he failed to turn up for a night shift at Holme House prison where he worked as a prison officer.

His disappearance prompted a massive rescue operation, involving six RNLI lifeboats, three inshore lifeboats, a Royal Navy ship, an RAF helicopter and a police spotter plane with heat-seeking detection equipment.

Emergency teams soon recovered a canoe paddle but, after 16 hours, the search was called off.

Mr Darwin was an experienced canoeist and, at the time, coastguards described his disappearance as "a complete mystery".

A week later, the shattered remains of his distinctive red canoe were found washed up on a beach at Seaton Carew, near Hartlepool. But there was no trace of the missing man, who was then aged 51.

Last night, however, Cleveland Police announced that, on Saturday evening, Mr Darwin had walked into the West End Central Police Station in London.

A spokesman said: "Mr Darwin is fit and well and relatives have been informed of his whereabouts. It is not known at this time where he has spent the last five-and-a-half years."

Mr Darwin's disappearance devastated his family. His wife Anne, a receptionist, watched the fruitless search operation from the window of the family home, which the couple had chosen for its commanding view of the North-east coast.

Six month months after her husband vanished, she told a local newspaper: "The view from my window is a daily reminder. This was to be the house of our dreams and I have just got to look out and not dwell on the tragedy."

She said: "People die, have a funeral, they have a headstone, there is something to mark the fact they existed on this earth. But without a body, I don't know how we can mark John's life.

"All I want is to bury his body. It would enable me to move on. It's difficult to grieve without bringing things to a close, but as it is I'm in limbo and there's nothing I can do

A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said that a 57 year old man had presented himself at a London police station and identified himself as a missing person.

"He has been identified by his family," he said.