Canoeist who 'came back from the dead' admits deception and fraud

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John Darwin, the man who appeared to come back from the dead, is facing a lengthy prison sentence after admitting a string of fraud charges that totalled more than £250,000.

But Darwin's wife, Anne, will face trial after she denied any part in the deception that left friends and family believing that the former prison officer had perished at sea.

The mystery surrounding Mr Darwin's reappearance captivated the nation last December when he walked into a police station in central London looking tanned and healthy and declared "I think I am a missing person".

Darwin, 57, had last been seen preparing to go out in his canoe near his home in Seaton Carew, Hartlepool, early one morning in March 2002.

An oar washed up a day after he vanished and the smashed remains of his canoe were found weeks later. An extensive air-sea search failed to find any trace of his body.

An inquest was held in Hartlepool 13 months later and the coroner, Malcolm Donnelly, declared Mr Darwin dead and recorded an open verdict.

Yesterday, as the couple appeared at Leeds Crown Court, flanked by three security guards, Darwin turned to his wife and squeezed her hand. She stared straight ahead, showing no emotion during the 30-minute plea and directions hearing.

Darwin pleaded guilty to seven charges of obtaining cash by deception and one charge of making false statements to procure a passport in the name of John Jones. He denied nine other counts of using criminal property and the court was told he will not face trial on these charges, which will be left to lie on file. The charges revolved around dishonestly obtaining money from pension, insurance and bereavement schemes and using a LloydsTSB account.

Mrs Darwin, 55, pleaded not guilty to six deception charges and nine of using criminal property and the court was told she would face trial at Teesside Crown Court on 14 July.

Peter Makepeace, representing her husband, said he accepted that a lengthy custodial sentence was inevitable. The barrister asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared, explaining that his client had been seen by a psychiatrist but there were no mental health issues relevant to the case.

He added: "Mr Darwin has been in custody. It has been an extremely difficult time for him. There has been self-harming issues."

The judge agreed for the report to be prepared but told Darwin he will have to be held in custody until the end of his wife's trial.

Just weeks before he vanished, the former science teacher wrote on the Friends Reunited website: "Taught in Derwentside for 18 years before leaving teaching to join Barclays Bank. At present, work for Prison Service and have portfolio of properties. Married to a convent girl Anne Stephenson, we have two grown-up sons and two dogs. Recently moved to Seaton Carew where I hope to retire soon."

His sons Mark, 31, and Anthony, 29, who detectives described as innocent victims in the charade, were reunited with their father last December.

It emerged that his wife, a former doctor's receptionist, had moved to Panama, selling their house in Seaton Carew and an adjoining property that they also owned. She said she was "amazed" at his reappearance but was arrested when she flew back to the UK a week later.

After Darwin's reappearance, speculation was rife as to where he had been for the past five years and whether he had spent time at Carew before moving to Panama. Questions were also raised as to exactly how much his wife had known about the deception.